New York

Sarah Sze

As if painting in space with everyday objects, Sarah Sze endows her elaborately theatrical installations with a delicately humorous poignancy that counteracts all the gee-whiz grandiosity. In their logic of clutter and accumulation, the artist’s earlier Venice-Carnegie-Whitney projects earned comparisons to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink installations of Judy Pfaff, Jessica Stockholder, and Jason Rhoades. In this show, her first solo gallery exhibition, the work was more reminiscent of the sculpture of Cornelia Parker or Tom Friedman, if one could imagine their obsessive Minimalism maximalized; spatial and temporal suspension seemed the guiding principle here. Consisting primarily of disassembled and elaborately refused bedroom furniture, it also felt more vulnerable than her institutional installations; the furniture’s association with body parts emphasized this sense of proximity and intimacy.

On entering the exhibition space, the viewer was greeted by Folded Chair (all works 2000), a demolished chair wrapped around a corner, seat and back on one side, severed legs turning into grasping tentacles on the other. The careful placement of light sources both around and in the work created the illusion of matter being pushed and pulled in every direction, so that the chair-cum-organism seemed to be hurtling willy-nilly across space. If there was something of Duchamp about the piece, it was not the sculptor of the stolid, untouched readymades but the painter of Nude Descending a Staircase. (In fact, the well-known, supposedly derogatory description of this painting—“an explosion in a shingle factory”—fits Sze’s work even better.) Around the corner were Fractured Sculpture and Drawn, each a bed frame (one “antique,” one “modern”) tom apart and reattached with everyday jetsam—Q-Tips, glass balls, lightbulbs, camera lenses—hanging in an arachnoid network of strings, bungee cords, and cables. Nearby, Twice (White Dwarf) looked like a comet, with slats and chunks of a disintegrated dresser crashing straight into the gallery wall, while in Deep Space, a piece of unidentifiable furniture—perhaps another dresser?—pushed up against the window and seemed to extend beyond it.

Despite the aura of frozen accident, nothing in the exhibition—not even a shadow—seemed randomly placed. It is not surprising to learn that many of the parts for these paintings/sculptures/installations were made in the studio and then assembled in the gallery itself. Sze turns site-specificity into, well, an art form. The pieces appeared as though they were living, parasitically, in the corners and walls of the gallery, at once supplementing and sabotaging the “host” space. For the attentive there were visual treats. Moss hid in a piece of dismembered furniture; there was a Q-Tip cluster in a crevice; something that looked like a flying circuit board was actually tiny cut-up personal photographs attached to, carefully sawed-up pieces of wood.

What prevents Sze’s work from being excessively precious or merely cutesy is the way its technical impressiveness exposes an emotional vulnerability. Somehow, in all this elegant detritus, Sze has evoked the explosive territory of the personal.

Nico Israel