Tom Sachs Designed an Art-Filled Obstacle Course to Deter ‘Posers’ From Buying His New Sneakers

Sneakerheads beware: It takes a lot of work to land these collectible kicks.

Tom Sachs, NIKECraft Mars 2.0. Courtesy of Nike.

If you spot a mysteriously long line somewhere in Manhattan, nine times out of 10 it’s leading to a sneaker store, where unapologetic sneakerheads are queueing up for the latest “drop.” The newest addition to the strange world of collectible footwear is the NIKECraft Mars 2.0 by artist Tom Sachs. But adding these kicks to your collection will be a challenge—and that’s how the artist wants it.

Sachs has designed an entire exhibition around the space-age shoes, requiring would-be customers to take a trip to “Space Camp.” After picking an ID badge, you sit through a 40-minute orientation video titled The Hero’s Journey, and then suit up—in complimentary Sachs-designed Nike/NASA gear that you get to take home, naturally—to complete a lengthy, art-filled obstacle course that tests both mind and body.

Tom Sachs at "Tom Sachs: Space Camp." Courtesy of Nike/Tom Sachs.

Tom Sachs at “Tom Sachs: Space Camp.” Courtesy of Nike/Tom Sachs.

It’s free to attend, provided you are able to make a coveted reservation. Originally, the shoes were also going to be available for purchase online for those who completed “five tests of digital dexterity,” but that no longer appears to be the case.

If it seems like Sachs is making people jump through hoops to buy his kicks, that might be because he isn’t too keen on the sneaker-collecting phenomenon. “We all die alone, and we die without our possessions, including our sneaker collection,” he told Vanity Fair ahead of the shoes’ release.

A message on the box reads “These shoes are only valid if worn, and worn to death by you. Posers need not apply.”

Tom Sachs, NIKECraft Mars Yard Shoe. Courtesy of Tom Sachs.

Tom Sachs, NIKECraft Mars Yard Shoe. Courtesy of Tom Sachs.

Sachs first collaborated with Nike back in 2012, releasing the NIKECraft Mars Yard Shoe. The kicks were inspired by the artist’s work with NASA ahead of his exhibition, “Space Program 2.0” at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. The shoe incorporated vectran fabric used in Mars Excursion Rover airbags. It quickly sold out, leaving the sneakerhead community ravenous for more.

Luckily for them, Sachs wasn’t satisfied with the first product, and spent the next five years working with Nike to develop a longer-lasting version.

"Tom Sachs: Space Camp" installation view. Courtesy of Angela Pham/BFA.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” installation view. Courtesy of Angela Pham/BFA.

The Hero’s Journey begins at the Park Avenue Armory show, a young “street rat” lured away from her boring office job by a chance to join Sach’s space program. The film charts her progress as she battles physical challenges and mental demons to become a master fabricator, passing on her expertise to others. Her journey is that of a studio artist—or an astronaut? The NASA conceit isn’t completely consistent—but the message of perseverance could apply to any career or challenge.

Following the screening room, there is a changing station, and a sculptural installation based on the film. The cubbies are stocked with the original NikeCraft Mars Yard shoes worn by Sachs’s studio team, with obvious signs of wear and tear underlining the need for a more durable design.

"Tom Sachs: Space Camp" installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

The obstacle course’s challenges begin with the classic rope climb—or, for those looking for an easier option, the ladder climb. Several of the stations are dedicated to health guru Pat Manocchia’s essential exercises, so be prepared to execute a perfect push-up and deadlift. (Sachs leads his studio team through a work out three days a week.)

There are also two stations where you must reach the other side of the room without touching the floor—you’re told it’s “hot lava” or a bottomless pool—one of which involves swinging by trapeze over a tank of water.

"Tom Sachs: Space Camp" installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

On the mental side, a helicopter rescue challenge requires you master the controls of a tiny remote-controlled helicopter on a Sachs-designed course, and a Sol Lewitt-inspired station asks you to draw a pencil line as close as possible to the one above it.

These are difficult tasks, and attempting to complete them, even with guidance from the friendly, well-trained “Space Camp” staff, is a stressful, frustrating process. That’s intentional.

"Tom Sachs: Space Camp" installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” installation view. Courtesy of Sarah Cascone.

“There will be failure,” Sachs warned journalists at a press preview, introducing the film before personally leading us through the space. The Hero’s Journey is all about failure, and how there will always be more work, always another challenge. It’s a message that is underscored throughout the obstacle course.

The “Space Camp” exhibition opened on June 7 in an 11,000-square-foot empty warehouse on New York’s Governors Island. Given the popular demand for limited-edition shoes, my experience at a “Space Camp” press-only event is likely to be extremely different that of the general public.

Carrying around my Sachs-branded paper bag to various art events later in the evening, I found that several people were aware of the new sneaker, and were desperate to get their hands on it.

"Tom Sachs: Space Camp" installation view. Courtesy of Neil Rasmus/BFA.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” installation view. Courtesy of Neil Rasmus/BFA.

A man staffing the coat check at the Frick’s Spring Garden Party lamented the fact that he got called into work and had to the miss the first night, while a curator I ran into at a gallery dinner on the Lower East Side told me that the “Space Camp” opening night was so crowded he was forced to return to Manhattan empty-handed.

Sachs will almost certainly enjoy a hefty payout from his Nike partnership. But if sneakerhead materialism runs counter to his intentions for “Space Camp,” the artist is likely to get his message across in at least one regard: For most of us trying to get our hands on NIKECraft Mars 2.0, the quest will end in failure.

“Tom Sachs: Space Camp” is on view on Governors’ Island, June 7–18, 2017. A London version is forthcoming.


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