In the heart of the Meat-Packing District in lower Manhattan the Bohen Foundation, despite the prevailing climate of cut-backs and pessimism, recently opened its doors to a new exhibition space. The Bohen houses 15,000 square feet of raw warehouse space designed by architects/industrial recyclists/artists LOT-EK. It is fitting, given the shifting context of the district's cultural production, that artist Tom Sachs should have inaugurated the space with his installation 'Nutsy's'. Representing two years of studio-based practice, the show spanned two floors and included, among other things, the world's largest model of Le Corbusier's 1952 Unité d'Habitation, a McDonald's stall, a 10,000-watt boom box, a surveillance tower and a DJ station/bar. Extending over 4,000 square feet, the 1:25 scale world is connected by an elaborate, hand-wrought model car track fitted with speed cameras.
Wandering around the show, you quickly became aware of two things: the detail and the adolescent humour, which would undermine the work were it not for its labour-intensive sculptural quality. The artist's painterly use of materials articulates a kind of raw, folksy take on authenticity. A million miles away from the miraculously clean joints of Donald Judd hand-made cabinets, Sachs' drizzling glue gun shares a similar defiance of the factory-perfect finish. He is quick to shrug off the title 'art', preferring instead to call his do-it-yourself sculptures 'bricolage'.
In the middle of the installation was a copy of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion lounge suite (1929). At first glance it blended in well with its surroundings and provided a convenient resting place. Closer inspection revealed the ensemble was made out of white foam board and clumsily welded steel, with 'Barcelona Chair' scribbled on its side in felt-tip pen. Sachs describes his messy welds as 'the joint that exposes the machine-made fraud that is the handmade reality of the Bauhaus'.
Used as a model for housing projects the world over, Corbusier's Unité exemplifies a coming together of the Bauhaus and the aims of the International Style - to build simple unadorned buildings that serve the needs of their users. Commissioned as a prototype to solve the post-World War II housing problem in Marseille, it became a blueprint for intelligent design. Not long after its completion Le Corbusier went on to say that 'the 20th Century hasn't built for men, it has built for money'. Placed alongside the McDonalds stall (complete with cleaning kits, grease storage, home-made shot-gun with a remote button spring release, and photocopier for making arse print copies for wrapping the burgers in), the artist's giant model of Unité d'Habitation is a nod to the corruption of Modernism's high ideals. Superficially Le Corbusier and McDonalds founder Ray Krok have little in common. Sachs proposes that they are both examples of successful models 'blamed for dehumanising the world and replacing local culture with an international (soulless) style'.
For the duration of the show Tuesday night was model car cup race night. When I attended Sachs was defending his sole victory in eight races and someone was busy serving burgers and fries over at the McDonalds stand. After qualifying on the track downstairs, the fastest four cars (Sachs' car has 'Christ Killer' written on the spoiler) set about the serious business of radio-controlled competition. At one junction there was the option of taking 'a long, safe way through the Modernist sculpture park' or risking a short cut through the obstacle-strewn ghetto. At another, just beyond the 'bong station', drivers had to negotiate a jump through a flaming ring of fire. Made to serve a dual purpose, the spectacular flaming hoop was also a barbecue where onlookers were encouraged to make roasted marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches (known fondly to Americans as 'smores'). Pulling in to McBusier (2002) - the model designed by Sachs that is half Villa Savoye (1928-31) and half McDonalds drive-in - the winner was showered with Budweiser as he raised the trophy, on which his name was inscribed in permanent magic marker. It was a touchingly morose rumination on the advances of franchised culture over heritage. Sachs adds: 'When you lose an eye or a leg, you get a glass eye or a peg leg ... and when you lose culture, you get some of the things we do here.' Watching people chilling out on Sachs' leatherette Barcelona, designed as seating for the King and Queen of Spain to launch the 1929 Expo, I couldn't help but wonder what Mies would have thought. But as he later admitted, 'to tell you the truth, nobody ever used them.'