Star Struck: Sarah Sze at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Crescent (Timekeeper) 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo by Genevieve Hanson.

Chelsea’s Tanya Bonakdar Gallery hosts recent work from the artist Sarah Sze, a formidable installation that bespeaks a migratory visual practice and that seems meant to herald momentary flashes of awe and wonder.  Sze deftly disguises what at first glance appears to connote the chaotic yet is a systematic and coherent approach to image-making and image-ordering that allows for the development of an array of strikingly comprehensive visual presentations.  The viewer receives intriguing glimpses of the exhibition from the dripping paint and photo montage on the gallery’s exterior windows.  Upon entering, one views large rolls of paper, canvases, and assorted drafting materials stashed by the corner entrance.  Torn paper remnants lay stacked on the gallery’s reception counter – a form of a warm greeting, or interface, compliments of the artist to let you know you’ve arrived.

Crescent (Timekeeper) 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo by Genevieve Hanson.

These assuming intrusions in the gallery traverse the boundaries of art and the marketplace and lead the viewer to question concerns for the production of labor and the value of exchange; an atmosphere of “work” is assumed by the stacking and furled and unfurled papers of printed matter.  By interjecting materials into the gallery processes and operations, Sze activates her works in progress as they fly in the face of business as usual.  Such maneuvers conjointly call forth Marxian distinctions between the use-value and exchange-value of the commodity and tease out notions of the art of business vs. the business of art, or the means of production vs. the art of production.  Subsequent interruptions include opaque and transparent iterations on the gallery floors, walls, and ceilings that particularize an event taking place.

A cornucopia of media seems an appropriate term to describe Sze’s cross-disciplinary aesthetics.  She mines and recontextualizes ‘in situ” and its derivations for varied forms of study:  art, archaeology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, and design.  Transmogrifying the commonplace through the interchange of signs, symbols, and objects, Sze constructs hybrid images of the visual and digital:  fragments, shavings, deposits, and detritus accrue as archaeological media.

Crescent (Timekeeper) 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo by Genevieve Hanson.

The aspects in which digitized imagery equips the gallery space is two-fold:  as objects of reality, and, as abstractions that are dependent upon technology and its ensuing iterations.  Motion is used to augment viewer interactivity in the given environment, and consequently, redefines singular perceptions and experiences of time.  One way that Sze actualizes this is by erecting fragile yet elaborate scaffolds – ladders, wire structures, and other stacked items.  Located in the main gallery space, Crescent (Timekeeper) incorporates a technical apparatus comprised of multiple projectors that randomly rotate, casting video onto a nestlike installation and other mediated surfaces, including the gallery walls.  Its rotation produces exaggerated projections of light mnemonic of star clusters or multiple universes.  The apparatuses also acknowledge the art of ‘in situ” whereas sculptural objects are created through the use of scaffolds before, during, and after the objects are erected.  Here, however, the scaffold also ingeniously serves as the sculptural object.  One may likewise assume a hyperawareness made to the analogy of “erecting the scaffolding” – be it physical, technological, or philosophical.  Yet, an inherent discontinuity is elemental to the endless transmutations in this multi-faceted installation; there are certain hit-or-miss moments in the infinite variety of sequences produced that enlivens and at times frustrates viewership.

Crescent (Timekeeper) 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo by Genevieve Hanson.

Both the ground floor and the upper gallery function as areas “in-process” that lead the viewer through the mental steps of initial experiments and aid in visualizing a resultant product.  Sze’s cut and paste language, particularly notable in the ground floor’s backroom, inculcates the forces of attraction and repulsion to a painterly subjectivity that, amusingly, can be seen and felt.  A tendency is enhanced through layers and transparencies that conspicuously refers to the act of picture-making and that define an open-ended schema; this allows for democracies of perceptual activity in front of, behind, and through Sze’s visual framing.  (One may harken back to images of nineteenth-century photographic laboratories, or Henri Matisse’s studio amidst his assorted blue paper “Cut-outs” as prep work before painting.)  Traces of meaning are literally and figuratively inscribed in these abstract composites.  One such area in progress highlights an enlarged and iterated shot of the artist’s pen in the act of mark-making.  The serial use of blue in rectangular formats recalls cyanotypes, blueprints, and alchemical darkroom processes, and emphatically conflates digital and analog methodologies.  Although Sze is not exactly inclined to making more with less, she at times seems to instill this idea in her mostly flat printed matter.  Distributed in bits and pieces throughout this extensive space, this specific display appears to fuse the elements and atmosphere of works produced off-site in the artist’s studio.

Last Glimpse (After Object) 2019. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

The animated projections, especially those on the second floor created through intensive digital compositing, demonstrate Sze’s engrossment in comprehensive, non-linear arrangements of animated form; she is expert at staging media environments that seek to disrupt the flow of palpable aesthetic experiences.  Conversely, her large-scale paintings, particularly the grouping in the second floor’s backroom, lack some of the visual power of her previous works in which varied materials more assertively veer off the canvas and into the viewer’s surroundings.  Nevertheless, one is encouraged to navigate this display of large-scale paintings through the crescent-shaped poured paint on the floor, and thus settle into discrete observational moments of semi-fractured pictorialism; in these mixed-media pieces, Sze humorously nods to the dual discoveries of perspective and Cubism’s planar shallow space.

In speaking to her audience in sporadic screams or sighs, Sarah Sze adroitly plays with the conventions of the illusion of space in conjunction with the space that is given at any prescribed moment.  An airiness is exuded in her two-dimensional reliefs that parallel her multi-dimensional constructions and asserts visual cohesion in their combined usage.  Complementing the lyrical and ethereal is a commentary on the intrinsic relationship between art and the methods of production, or reproduction, which, through iteration upon iteration, is furtively expressed.  Whether her layered constructions render minute or reign colossal, they emphatically declare, “THINKING BIG.”  With this in mind, Sze’s everchanging overlays of the terrestrial and the vast cosmos advance intonations of the artist as ever-present.

Sarah Sze’s work will be exhibited in Surrounds: 11 Installations, a group exhibition scheduled for the re-opening of the Museum of Modern Art, New York on October 2019.  She is represented in such private and public collections as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.  This exhibition is on view from September 5 – October 19, 2019.

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Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

521 West 21st Street

New York, NY 10011

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Patti Jordan

Patti Jordan is a New York City-based, interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator working within the spheres of visual and media culture. Her writings and creative practice prioritize materiality as well as alternative and process-based approaches to aesthetics.

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