Sarah Sze explains her 2nd Avenue subway art

Here’s why the artist and Phaidon author drew on the Futurists and Constructivists for her NYC commission
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Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station. All images courtesy of art21.org.
Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station. All images courtesy of art21.org.

“When I conceive of a work, I choreograph the experience to create an ebb and flow of information,” Sarah Sze tells Okwui Enwezor in our Contemporary Artist Series book on her. “I’m thinking about how people approach, slow down, stop, perceive. I try and create alternating experiences of location and dislocation. It’s something I’ve always loved about the Cubists, the Russian Constructivists and the Futurists: their attempts to depict the speed and intensity of the moment and the impossibility of its stillness.”

 

The 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station
The 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station

In the past those works have largely been restricted to galleries and museums. Yet, since the beginning of this year, New York’s subway riders have been able to take in one of her largest installations after she was commissioned to create a piece for the walls of the new 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station.

Sze called the work Blueprint for a Landscape, partly because “the blueprint is traditionally a two-dimensional drawing that helps you understand three-dimensional space.”

 

The 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station
The 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station

“I wanted all the entrance ways to this subway station to mirror how we move through space,” she explains in a new video to highlight the work. “This speed of movement, these transitions into different kinds of environments, that we take for granted and we do repetitively.”

Sze is better known for her installations, yet this flat, tiled wall work engages closely with its space. One entrance draws on Constructivist and Futurist themes, with a series of lines zooming out along a one-point perspective; another entrance mimics the traveller's descent beneath the city’s surface, while other sections of her piece add a little tranquillity and stillness within the station.

 

Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station
Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station

“Subway stations are one of the most democratic places you will find,” says Sze, and with this in mind, she’s made sure that Blueprint for a Landscape works as a kind of way-finding system, enabling travellers to tell which exit is which via Sze’s art.

She’s also conscious that, unlike a gallery show, Blueprint for a Landscape will be around for a very long time. “I’m going to have to see that everyday,” she says, “and my great grandchildren might see it too.”

 

Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station
Sarah Sze at the 96th Street St 2nd Avenue Station

Nevertheless, this prestigious public art commission proves just how far Sze herself has travelled. “When I applied to colleges I included an essay about how I would always draw people’s pictures on the subway,” the artist recalls. “Now its great to have my drawings on the subway.”

 

To discover more about this important artist’s life and work order a copy of our Sarah Sze book here; to buy her art, take a look at the pieces available over on Artspace; for more on the Italian Futurists and the Russian Constructivists, get Art in Time; and for more on site-specific art in the Americas, get Art & Place.


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