OCT 2019

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OCT 2019 Issue
ArtSeen

Sarah Sze

<p>Installation view: <em>Sarah Sze</em>, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.</p>

Installation view: Sarah Sze, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.

New York
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
September 5 – October 19, 2019

Sarah Sze beguiles us with two new spectacularly wrought installations teeming with meticulously arranged objects, contraptions, photographs, plants, projectors that beam moving images, sound, and much more, all disposed in and around her signature scaffolding, itself a tour de force of improvisation and precarity. In Crescent (Timekeeper) (2019), the larger installation, narrative fragments are a by-product of Sze’s penchant for high theatricality. Maybe we’ve always read fiction into her art, but here it is virtually an inescapable response.

In the sprawling apparent disarray of her darkened, cavernous installation, only partially illuminated with twinkling points of light and slow tracking projections, the sense of physical disturbance is palpable. It’s as if a thousand things had blown apart and were then suspended in mid-air. Playing along with the premise of some unknown cataclysm, it’s as if we viewers were late-comers to the disaster. Miraculously, we have survived and now wander through the ruins, drawn into the minute details of the dazzling mayhem. Resonantly symbolic of nature, an abundance of ripped photographic images of earth and the cosmos—birds in flight, volcanoes spewing, wilderness views, starry night skies—dominate the installation and nominate the mysterious event as one of environmental destruction. Her ambient landscape is a spectacle of loss and romantic longing. Cue our culture’s long-playing obsession with apocalypse: Sound describes a vast empty space filled with echoes, dripping water and dark rumbles in some distant sphere, subtly reinforcing a feeling of abandonment and decrepitude. This dystopic place seems familiar, whether from the movies or real life—think Blade Runner or the Bahamas—and portends a version of the end of life as we know it.

</p><p>Installation view: <em>Sarah Sze</em>, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.</p>

Installation view: Sarah Sze, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.

A smaller, but no less intricate and theatrical installation, Images in Translation (2019), conjures a similar scenario of disruption, but playing in tandem with the pretend post-apocalyptic ruins, another fiction sprouts, this one dealing with the imaginary artist. She’s a tinkerer all right, and a hoarder, too, who seems to have just stepped away from her desk, her computer screen still illuminated with a cluster of images that are projected through scaffolding and onto the wall. The improvised studio approximates a gloomy bunker where she’s been hunkered down. Photographic images identical to the birds and foxes and blue skies that haunt Crescent (Timekeeper) are taped up or projected, to the point of obsession, and look ominously symptomatic of loss. The fictional dimensions of Images in Translation mirror real fear about the fate of life on earth. Do we over-determine the work? How far do these fictions take us, and to what end?

Sze excels in the production of contemporary vanitas, their reflective capacity a platform for ideas about transience. Transported from the everyday by glittering theatrical sets that conjure dystopic sci-fi futures, we entertain not only our own transience, but also that of the work itself. Though she recycles her ideas, methods, and motifs in the succession of the projects she crafts, after the run of this show, these particular installations will never exist again. As if to amend the impermanence, this exhibition includes single- and multi-paneled, densely layered paintings that condense many of the visual and discursive themes of her art. These relate to another component of the exhibition—an actual artist’s studio, entitled After Studio (2019) secluded in a back room of the gallery. The improvised studio seems largely dedicated to painting, and it appears that all of the four large and five smaller works that were included in the exhibition had been produced here. The small paintings are casually displayed and almost disappear in the din of a studio mess consisting of paint splatters and drips, torn photographs, blue tape, cardboard, miscellaneous stuff and newspapers strewn about the floor, their headlines reading, incidentally, like clues verifying Sze’s methods and concerns: “The Old Bamboo,” “Now No Water at All,” “Amazing Things Are Happening Here,” “The Food Supply Is at Dire Risk,” “This Web Is Dark—Very Dark.”

Ironically, even though her installations distill a sense of chaotic randomness, precision is paramount: incidental disarray is a ruse, and we recognize it every time. The studio in After Studio, however, is supposed to be actual, right? (But who titles their studio?) Sze also gives the front of the gallery—the exterior entrance, the windows and the entry area—the “studio treatment.” Paint drips down the façade, which is layered with prints posted to the front windows, and a jumble of her art-making materials and photos is stashed in the entryway. These, too, have titles: Images in Refraction (East) and Images in Refraction (West), both 2019. The front of the building and its lobby look like a scrappy run-down storefront. Oddly, these gestures serve as the introduction to the exhibition. If it’s supposed to approximate realism, it doesn’t. It comes across as just another staged setting that, this time, we’re supposed to believe in. This time, the “fiction” is authenticity. But the thing with authenticity is, it can’t be represented. If you have to say it, then it isn’t that at all. I prefer the fictional encounters with the post-anthropocene any day rather than pretending something is real.

Contributor

Jan Avgikos

JAN AVGIKOS is a critic and historian who lives and works in NYC and the Hudson Valley.

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OCT 2019

All Issues