Sarah Sze - photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation
Sarah Sze - photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

On International Women's Day meet Sarah!

Learn how the New York artist Sarah Sze choreographs her fabulous, constellation-like installations

Widely recognized for challenging the boundaries of painting, installation and architecture, Boston-born, New York-based, artist Sarah Sze's sculptural practice ranges from slight gestures discovered in hidden spaces to expansive installations that scale walls and colonize art gallery interiors. Illustrating the close relationship her practice has with literature and poetry she says her work is inspired by, among other things, the poems of Emily Dickinson.

Certainly her immersive, intricate works question the value society places on objects and how these objects can ascribe meaning to the places we inhabit. Since the late 1990s, she’s developed a signature visual language that challenges the static nature of sculpture, doing so by drawing from Modernist traditions of the found object, dismantling their authority with dynamic constellations charged with flux, transformation and fragility.

 

Just Now Dangled Still (2008) - Sarah Sze
Just Now Dangled Still (2008) - Sarah Sze

She calls herself a sculptor -  "I think that’s where I discovered my language, where I felt the pull," but was not trained as one. "I studied architecture and painting. But I’m more interested in how defining the idea of sculpture leads to breaking it down. I’m more interested in the idea that flm can be a sculpture, a drawing can be a sculpture, music can be a sculpture. Sculpture creates a base where you can challenge the identity of anything, but as a defnition it’s not interesting to me." 

When she first conceives of a work, Sze says she choreographs the experience to create an ebb and flow of information, thinking about how people approach, slow down, stop, and perceive the work.

 

Seamless (1999) - Sarah Sze
Seamless (1999) - Sarah Sze

"It’s something I’ve always loved about the Cubists, the Russian Constructivists and the Futurists," she says. "Their attempts to depict the speed and intensity of the moment and the impossibility of its stillness. Landscape design has focused on this kind of choreography for centuries: how do you set up a sequence of spaces that guides viewers, but also lets them get lost and make choices that aren’t planned. The work I did on the Highline in New York (Still Life with Path [Model for a Habitat], 2011) is a good example. As a structure, the Highline creates an incredible experience of walking in a straight line with no interruptions in the city.

 

Still Life with Path [Model for a Habitat], 2011 - Sarah Sze
Still Life with Path [Model for a Habitat], 2011 - Sarah Sze

"I struggled when I was first asked to do a work there because the Highline is so successful as an experience in and of itself, it’s hard to add to that experience and I thought it would be too easy to make a drive-by piece of sculpture that was just plopped down and passed. Then I realized that the work would have to be all about accentuating the promenade. So I made a piece that the promenade bisects, so that the piece is on either side of you as you walk and you become the centre. You see the work in the distance, approach, enter, and let it disappear behind you."

Find out more about Sarah Sze in the pages of our great Sarah Sze Contemporary Artist Series book which features an in depth interview with curator Okwui Enwezor, artist writings by Sarah and contributions from Laura Hoptman, curator in the department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York and Benjamin H D Buchloh, Professor of Modern Art in the Department of History of Art at Harvard. You can buy it here.