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Artist Sarah Sze uncovers the process behind her work to full crowd

By Emma Kahn

Section: Arts

December 2, 2016

Renowned artist Sarah Sze has been present on campus since this past summer, working meticulously to create art made distinctly for spaces in the Rose Art Museum. Her two works currently on display, “Timekeeper” and “Blue Wall Moulting” have dazzled all visitors since the Rose opening on Sept. 10. On Thursday, Nov. 17, Sze gave a talk that brought a deeper understanding and further admiration for her works.

The talk drew a large turnout, exceeding the capacity of the presentation room and bringing some audience members to fill any standing room. Students and faculty members were joined by members of the outside community passionate for Sze’s artwork. Curator of the Rose Art Museum, Kim Conaty, introduced Sarah Sze and provided background for those unfamiliar with her work.

“Sarah has often conceived of the basic structures and core of her work in her studio, but the real magic happens when she is on site, responding to the idiosyncrasies of a given space and very much anchoring her work to that place,” Conaty said. Her sculptures are “dizzyingly complex and elegant” and “at once material and immaterial, systematized and organic,” she continued. Former Rose Director Chris Bedford described her work as “never strictly painting, sculpture, video, drawing or installation, and frequently all of the above.” Challenging to describe and impossible to do justice to when put into words, Sarah Sze’s art became more magical and fascinating when chronicled by the artist herself.

Whisperings in the audience before the talk indicated that Sze might have been ill. In fact, when she began to speak, you could hear that her voice was hoarse and she struggled to speak audibly. Despite the setback, Sze pushed along and humbly began by thanking all those in the audience who made her exhibitions at the Rose possible. Then, after another setback of technical issues using the projector, Sze finally began her talk by retracing her career path and reflecting on works she produced during her time in graduate school.

Sze had emerged from her undergraduate career with a background in architecture and painting. In graduate school, she began to think about how objects accrue value and went on to create a piece of art using materials that, to her, had very little aesthetic value but were of practical use. She built sculptures out of toilet paper. Each mini-sculpture was comprised of one square of toilet paper. When asked to display the work, she chose a small area that is typically used to cover a museum’s windows so as to create a windowless exhibition space. Lamps, wood beams and shelving units confused what Sze created and what already existed. She purposefully integrated her art into a space that blurred the line between installation and space, between art and the “practical.” As her career progressed, she continued to play with the dichotomy between what is art and what isn’t art, consistently “taking sculpture off of a pedestal” and disrupting the authority of a space.

Another central component of her work is a blur between the monumental and the miniscule. She creates works that take a dramatic change of form as the viewer moves through the space. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sze created a massive sculpture made from sliced sections of a Jeep Cherokee, titled “Things Fall Apart.” Viewed from the entrance of the museum, the work is art on a grand scale, its details mostly inaccessible to viewers from down below. Then, upon reaching the exhibit up close, viewers could breach its large form and view its more intimate details. The sculpture forces dramatic change of form as viewers move around the work, a trait that paintings or drawings cannot as easily accomplish. “Things Fall Apart” demonstrates how Sze’s ingenious sculptures play with gravity, with movement, with the disruption of a space and with an intimacy for its viewers.

In 2013, Sze created an exhibition titled “Triple Point” that she installed at the U.S. Pavilion in Venice. The work blends indoors and outdoors, as elements of nature infiltrate the indoor space and real and fake flora confuse the entrances and exits of the building. She also plays with time in this piece, leaving evidence that someone has been in the space before you, and repurposing three sundials on the floor into pendulum sculptures. Sze makes many of her works in threes.

“Then it almost becomes too perfect, and you get bored with it and you need to move on,” she said. Her works evoke her studio, bringing the viewer to the space of creation. While her sculptures are either site-specific or very mobile, “Triple Point” is incredibly site-specific, taking advantage of the existing space and disrupting its symmetry, gravity and authority.

Sze is currently focused on a project located in the future entrance of a 96th Street subway station in Manhattan. In collaboration with two other artists creating works for two different subway stations, Sze will use her station to play with the intersections of three-dimensional sculpture and two-dimensional planning by incorporating the blueprint into her mural. Untapped Cities’ website describes the future display as “dynamic landscapes evoking wind, architecture, flora and dramatic energy fields divided into three distinct palettes of blue, violet and lavender located at three different entrances.”

Sze’s talk put into words many of the sublime emotions that are not easily conceptualized when viewing her exceptional and complex artistic works, and all those who were able to attend were incredibly fortunate to have such an experience. Sarah Sze’s “Timekeeper” and “Blue Wall Moulting” will be on view until Dec. 11. Additionally, her talk is available for viewing online at the Rose’s website.

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