Sarah Sze and the Venice Biennale


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Venice Biennale is like the Olympics of the contemporary art world. Every two years countries around the world send their best and brightest to an art fair that nearly takes over Venice. The list of artists chosen to represent the US at Venice is a lesson in American art history: Edward Hopper (1930), Willem de Kooning (1950), Robert Rauschenberg (1964), Diane Arbus (1972), Ed Ruscha (2005).

This year the honor belongs to the installation artist Sarah Sze, who builds intricate gravity-defying structures that take over the spaces they inhabit (they have been described as sculptural maelstroms). As strange and fantastical as they look, the materials seem like stuff Sze picked up at the dollar store — birthday candles, aspirin, light bulbs, cheap shelving.

Sze tells Kurt Andersen that when she started studying sculpture, she thought a lot about how people assign value to the things around them. “That sweater you’re wearing, how do you feel like that’s your sweater, when you know hundreds of people have the same sweater?,” she asks rhetorically. “What objects in your life have value and how is value created? So one of the things that I want to do in my work is to show objects that we know we’ve seen in our bag or on a shelf in a store, but for some reason in that location they have the residue of emotion.”

She’s not at all put off when people tuck bits of junk from their pockets into her pieces. “A bus ticket, a paper clip, a piece of gum. Like when you go to a Japanese shrine and people leave a little note — it’s so wrong in a museum that I think it’s interesting.”

Sze shows Kurt sketches for Triple Point, the installation she is building in Venice, which will snake throughout the US pavilion in surprising ways. It’s a Neoclassical building, but her plan has visitors enter through the emergency exits rather than the grand entrance. “I want to it to be about exploring the nooks and crannies of the building so you find the artwork rather than having it presented to you.” Kurt thinks it seems ambitious, even for her large-scale works. “It’s the American Pavilion,” Sze says. “You’ve got to give it all you’ve got.”


Slideshow: Sarah Sze’s Installations

Courtesy of artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, photo by Mike Jensen

Sarah Sze, Books of Parts (Centennial) at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 2012.

Materials: mixed media, metal shelves, wood, lights, plaster, felt, and string

Courtesy of artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, photo by Mike Jensen

A closer look at Books of Parts (Centennial).

Courtesy of artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, photo by Mike Jensen

Books of Parts (Centennial).

Photo by Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze, Still Life With Landscape (Model For A Habitat) at the High Line, New York, 2011.

Materials: stainless steel and wood.

Photo by Tom Powel

Sarah Sze, The Uncountables (Encyclopedia) at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York 2010.

Materials: mixed media, metal shelves, wood shelves, lights, plastic bottles, and milk cartons.

Photo by Helene Toresdotter

Sarah Sze, Tilting Planet at Malmö Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden, 2006.

Materials: mixed media.

Photo by Tom Powel

Sarah Sze, Corner Plot at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, New York, 2006.

Materials: mixed media.

    Music Playlist
  1. The Brain of the Purple Mountain
    Artist: Leo Kottke
    Album: 6- and 12-String Guitar
    Label: Takoma
  2. Summertime in Venice
    Artist: Mantovani and His Orchestra
    Album: Mantovani's Golden Hits
    Label: Universal Motown Records Group
    Purchase: Amazon


Sarah Sze

Produced by:

Ann Heppermann

Comments [1]

Alan Wu from Boston

There were actually 3 copies of the Eames "Mathematica" exhibit, which was mentioned in the program. They have been moved from place to place over the years. For more details about the exhibit, see the Wikipedia article (

May. 26 2013 02:56 PM

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