Park Avenue Armory Hosts Tom Sachs Art Installation “Space Program: Mars”

Mars landing reenactment with equipment in Park Avenue Armory's Drill Hall.

We admit it: we were more than a little skeptical about Tom Sach's Space Program: Mars, a sprawling, insanely detailed, enthusiastically immersive installation at the Park Avenue Armory. Not that we have anything against Mars, mind you, or space travel in general, or Tom Sachs, whose meticulous recreations of high-tech gear using low-tech materials have charmed us in the past. It was more like: we "get" Space Program: Mars just from reading about it–a reenactment, complete with equipment and volunteers, of what a NASA Mars landing would be like, laid out and played out in Armory's massive Drill Hall–but how engaging can it really be in person? Especially for $12? 

Bio lab installation at the Mars exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan.

So maybe it was the low expectations, but we have to say that we had a blast at Tom Sachs's Space Program: Mars the other afternoon, walking around and checking out the dozens of different "stations"–which are really more like mixed-media sculptures than anything else–throughout, and chatting with the mission staff (who are totally willing to explain anything and everything), and, because it was Tuesday after 4:00, not only did we get in for free, but we also got to see the dress rehearsal for Thursday's "landing." 

Staff at the Indoctrination Center Tom Sachs Mars art installation in NYC.

Heck, we even liked the deadpan-delivered "training films", which are necessary viewing for anyone who wants to actively participate in the landing. We sat through one of the five, the 20-minute-long "Colors", which was well-designed and much funnier than we expected. With popcorn. And, yes, you WILL be tested on what you've learned before you receive the go-ahead at the Indoctrination Center. 

Shelves with Air Jordan sneakers at the Tom Sachs Art Installation “Space Program: Mars."

But even if you don't join the crew (we didn't), there are still plenty of wild pieces to look at in Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, but not to touch, as tempted as you will be. That everything is handmade from, basically, plywood and found objects only adds to the fun. For example, there's the Landing Excursion Module, of course, which is the centerpiece of the show and, as we learned from the extremely helpful young staffer, is the only amateur LEM anywhere that can actually hover the ground. 

Mission Control rehearsal with Sachs at Park Avenue Armory's Mars exhibition.

Mission Control is pretty cool as well, especially during the dress rehearsal we saw, with Sachs himself on hand manning the monitors (everything in the Armory is caught on CCTV and fed to the command center). And there are staffers constantly scurrying around busy with seemingly pointless tasks, such as sealing peanuts into tin foil pouches via the elaborate Hot Nuts apparatus. The whole thing is goofy without being campy, and everyone goes about their business with a straight face without taking themselves too seriously. It works, and it's fun. 

Sealing peanuts into tin foil pouches via the Hot Nuts apparatus at Space Program: Mars exhibit.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars at Park Avenue Armory details 

Space Program: Mars by Tom Sachs will be on view at the Park Avenue Armory through Sunday, June 17. The Armory is located on Park Avenue between 67th and 66th Streets, and is open Tuesday through  Sundays from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m., and on Fridays until 9:00 p.m. Closed Mondays. For lots more information about everything, please see the Park Avenue Armory website, here

Equipment room exhibit at the Space Program: Mars, Park Avenue Armory in NYC.

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