In 1996, when Sarah Sze positioned hundreds (perhaps thousands) of minute, fossil-like objects—each scrupulously fashioned from toilet paper moistened with saliva—in an inconspicuous alcove of a group exhibition in SoHo, the artist, then pursuing her MFA, had yet to develop the sculptural lexicon for which she is now known. Three years later, Sze’s installations would begin to rely upon an abundance of mass-produced items that function as interdependent components, as in Everything that Rises Must Converge (1999)—which suggests a detonated scientific model caught in midair—rather than an accumulated one-off inventory. Even if Sze’s division between crafted and culled constituents was only briefly absolute, it did establish a dialectical relationship essential to the installations that formed her recent solo exhibition (all works 2010).
The whole of the largest work, The Uncountables (Encyclopedia), was situated at a slight angle within the main gallery, as if to follow a west-southwest compass heading. True to its title, the installation contained a seemingly innumerable assortment of objects positioned mostly on interconnected shelves. In one area, gravel provided the footbed for a pair of lovely, pristinely white papier-mâché sneakers. On a lower shelf were four sticks of foil-wrapped gum (among many other small, individually wrapped goods), and, on the shelf above, a display of drill bits. The installation’s armature variously comprised gray, hole-punched steel, webbing straps and—as a few ingenious upright supports—drinking glasses. While Sze’s pioneering installations were largely bound to the floor in crude groupings suggesting a hoarder’s trove, The Uncountables’ myriad ordered objects appeared to tilt and rotate on an axis. Despite its apparent sprawl, the piece owed much to the logic of the grid.
In an upstairs gallery, Sze returned to the filigree lines of her signature, architecturally responsive models with 360 (Portable Planetarium). Employing curved and clamped lattice strips intersected by metal girders and taut string, the large spherical work evoked a planetary rupture, remarkably both airy and dense. Looking past the assortment of bottle caps, cups and other quotidian objects suspended within its interior, the viewer discovered a curved and stepped construction to which aerial photographs of the land and sea were affixed. The intense cerulean blue of these scenes complemented an adjacent display of photographs of a raging forest fire. After digesting their pleasing chromatic correspondence, a disturbing implication emerged: perhaps our ecological awareness is no match for a commerce-driven world fueled by seductive, disposable goods. Such sudden and unexpected jabs of meaning could be found throughout Sze’s exhibition—weighty revelations served up with visual delight.
Photo: View of Sarah Sze’s installation The Uncountables (Encyclopedia), 2010, metal shelves and mixed mediums; at Tanya Bonakdar.