Sarah Sze is an American artist known for her intricate installations and taxonomic arrangements consisting of everyday objects. A fluid amalgamation of two-dimensional image, sculpture, video, installation, and science, Sze's work not only challenges the convention of sculpture as a static object, but also offers a fantastical investigation into the measurement of time and space.Read More
Sze refers to her artworks as experiments, at the centre of which exist investigations into a certain material's context or qualities.
In the case of Cotissi—an installation created for Glasstress in 2017 (an official collateral event of that year's Venice Biennale)—the inquiry is into the properties of broken glass. Set in concrete, the glass shards originally set aside for recycling are both scintillating to look at and dangerous, given their jagged edges.
In an earlier installation titled Stone Series (2013–5) (part of Sze's solo exhibition organised by Victoria Miro in 2015), the artist arranged a group of rocks on the floor. At first glance, the rocks appear massive and immovable; a closer inspection reveals them to be lightweight imitations created by covering wire armature with a printed boulder pattern. On the wall, a row of canvases contains the printed textures of the rocks on display, flattening the weight and volume associated with a rock into two dimensions.
Another concern that Sze repeatedly returns to is time, as explored in Still Life with Desk and Calendar Series (both 2013–5). Still Life with Desk is a mixed-media sculpture that seems to have been frozen in a moment of disintegration. In it, an intricate wire structure acts as a desk over which the artist has placed office supplies and related found objects including photographs, stationery, takeaway coffee cups, bottled water and potted plants. Some objects spill onto the floor, while more appearing ready to follow. The spillage on the ground also includes silkscreen prints of newspaper front pages that, while sharing the date January 1, 2014, were each issued in a different location in a different time zone. In a further attempt to mark various moments in time, Sze replaces the photographs in the prints with pictures of the night sky.
Similarly centred on the passage of time, Calendar Series saw Sze collect 90 front pages of The New York Times. The artists again swapped out the newspaper's photographs, this time for images of nature such as the ocean or a snowscape. Discussing the work in an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Sze recalled the questions that arose while working with time: 'How do you measure either space or time through materials or objects? What is our behaviour in doing that? ... How do we mark time not only physically, but emotionally or psychologically?'
Calendar Series—originally conceived for an exhibition at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2014—later developed an unexpected political dimension, beginning with its acceptance for the 1st Asian Biennial and the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (both 2015) in China. When Chinese authorities requested Sze remove parts of the newspaper that referenced China, the artist responded by painting over them with black acrylic.
In 2016, Sze presented another revision of Calendar Series for Protest—a group exhibition at Victoria Miro in London that showcased artists whose works challenge the status quo—in which she obliterated all written content, save for references to China.
In 2016, Sze expanded her interest in ways of measuring time and space with Timekeeper, a tabletop installation that resembles a scientist's den or a writer's desk with its assemblage of objects including mirrors, lamps, stools, stones, alarm clocks with neon numerals and a metronome, among others. For this installation, the artist projected a diverse range of videos onto a myriad of surfaces, illustrating the many forms of time; the footage includes cheetahs running in slow motion, birds in flight and at rest, and water flowing. Displayed inside a darkened room, the installation was a rich landscape of fragmented and kaleidoscopic imagery.
Reminiscent of Timekeeper is Measuring Stick (2015), another tabletop installation that measures time and space through the moving image. Inspired by the film Powers of Ten (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames and its use of the factor of ten to quantify the universe, Measuring Stick combines mathematics and science with art; one of the installation's projections is a live feed of data from NASA that charts the distance between Voyager 1 and Earth.
Although she is widely recognised for her sculptures, Sze considers drawing a significant part of her practice for its sense of immediacy and potential to develop into other mediums. Her familiarity with the two-dimensional form stems from her background in painting, graduating with a BA from Yale University in 1991 and an MFA from New York's School of Visual Arts in 1997.
Sarah Sze's complex multimedia works have appeared in public spaces across New York. Commissioned for the Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Corner Plot (2006) shows Sze's ongoing concerns for architecture, and the urban environment. Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat) (2011), conceived for the High Line, consisted of elaborate, quasi-architectural structures that explored perspective and materials in open space. Blueprint for a Landscape (2016), an immersive installation at the 96th Street station, saw the artist cover the walls of the subway with blue-and-white images and patterns inspired by the notions of light and dark, Constructivism, and Japanese printmaking.
Sarah Sze's artworks are in the permanent collections of prominent institutions including The Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Fondation Cartier, Paris; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, among others.
Exhibiting internationally since the 1990s, Sarah Sze has held numerous solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Sarah Sze: Timelapse, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2023); Shattered Sphere, Congress Square Park, Portland (2022); Sarah Sze, Victoria Miro, London (2021); Night into Day, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris (2020); Sarah Sze, Gagosian Gallery, Paris (2020).
Group exhibitions include The Story of Art as it's Still Being Written, Victoria Miro, London (2022); Ruins and Fragments, Gagosian, Athens (2022); Artists for New York, Hauser & Wirth, New York (2020); Surrounds: 11 Installations, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2019).
In 2013, Sze represented the United States at the 55th Venice Biennale in the American Pavilion.
Sze was a recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 2019 and received the MacArthur Fellowship in 2003.
Sarah Sze has been the subject of numerous articles published in important publications, including The Financial Times and The New York Times. She was also interviewed by Katy Hessel for The Great Women Artists Podcast in 2023.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2023