“Art is the path of the creator to his work,” New Englander Ralph Waldo Emerson declared in “The Poet,” his 1844 essay on writing and artistry. This focus not on finished artworks but on process and discovery seems especially pertinent for New York-based transplanted New Englander Sarah Sze. For much of August, Sze set up shop in Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, transforming the space into an ad hoc studio. She constructed sculptures and assemblages from sundry common materials in situ, patiently thinking and teasing these artworks into being. The resultant exhibition—Sze’s first New York gallery show since her acclaimed installation in the U.S. pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale—abounded with material poetry, and small details were often riveting and magical.
With Sunset Hanging (Fragment Series)—all works 2015—a torn scrap of a digitally printed photograph showing an orange sunset hangs from a thin stainless-steel pipe. Beside it is a gossamer spray of multicolored threads and strands of dried paint. The work seems disheveled, even wrecked—mere scraps and tatters—but also lovely. The large Second Studio (Fragment Series) features, among numerous components, dried blue paint strips hanging from stainless steel scaffolding and irregular pieces of colorful photographic prints flowing across the floor. Sunset Standing (Fragment Series), an upright stainless-steel contraption displaying hanging photographs of a sunset and night sky, a piece of dried blue paint, and two stones, is an ultra-condensed version of earth and sky. While Sze has long been a painterly sculptor, abundantly employing color and gesture in three-dimensional works, here she was even more so. In addition to the paint pieces mentioned above, two large sheets of dried white acrylic hung from wood bars near the ceiling (part of Sze’s elaborate overhead construction for lighting), turning paint into a tactile, sculptural material.
All of these works were downstairs. They belong to Sze’s ongoing “Fragment Series” and were in dialogue with one another in a way that suggested a single, room-filling installation. Many of them suggested both detonated paintings and cosmic debris.
Nature and its representations coursed through the show. The works on view convey wonderment and awe as well as raw trepidation, connecting with Romantic conceptions of the sublime. They also carry intimations of ecological mayhem. Everything crystallized in a work shown upstairs: Measuring Stick, a tabletop universe consisting of an array of items, including mirrors, sand, toilet paper, aluminum foil, grass and a bottle of water. Small video projections show a running cheetah, bullets making objects explode and the real-time distance between Earth and the ever-receding Voyager spacecraft. It’s a bedazzling sculpture, one that encapsulates density and vastness, creation and destruction.