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Sarah Sze
Holdings (4)
1 sculpture, 1 book, 1 edition prints/proof, 1

Wikipedia About Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze (born 1969) is a contemporary artist who lives and works in New York City. Sze uses ordinary objects to create sculptures and site-specific installations. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Sarah Sze, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Throughout her childhood in Boston, Sarah Sze was an attentive observer of her father’s work as an architect. This fascination, as well as her undergraduate study of art and architecture at Yale, fostered her appreciation of the conceptual, material, and practical complexities of the design and construction of buildings. Having lived in two of the world’s most densely populated cities (Tokyo and New York), Sze experienced firsthand the tenuous connections between people and the places in which they live and work, observing that there are structures “ever present in daily urban life that … both support and threaten us. I experience both a general comfort and fear that comes with my complete dependence on [them].”1

Sze’s site-specific installations reflect this tension. Since 1996, she has created finely attenuated sculptures, often on a monumental scale, constructed out of a wide array of brand-new, domestic commodities of everyday life, including lightbulbs, thermometers, breakfast cereal, cotton swabs, and pushpins. Metastasizing from walls and ceilings, her works also inhabit random or underutilized spaces such as corners or windowsills. All of her installations to date are interventions with the existing architecture; she “doesn’t fight the building but tickles it.”2

Over a period of twelve days in May 1992, Sze created the Walker-commissioned Grow or Die, a three-part site-specific work in the Cowles Conservatory on the grounds of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.3 For this project, she cut into the subterranean spaces beneath the floor usually reserved for the mechanical innards of a modern building’s basement or foundation. Each of the three windows looking into her unique handcrafted land- and cityscapes is meant to be a surprise encounter: “I wanted the sites to seem as if they had been discovered, rather than placed.”4 By impeding the viewer’s ability to determine depth and breadth, Sze reinforces the idea that each window provides a glimpse of a single, expansive system.

The first part of Grow or Die resembles an archaeological dig in a canyon or eroded river bed. Blue pushpins and small rocks balance on top of swirling geological outcroppings carved in Styrofoam. The snowy white formations of the second part undulate downward to an icy abyss. Sze wanted the viewer of this piece to experience a powerful gravitational pull into the void. In contrast to the organic infrastructure of these installations, the third is organized in an irregular architectonic grid. Rather than evoking a natural environment staving off the encroachment of human development, the preponderance of rectangular forms signals a bird’s-eye view of a lost cityscape. In Sze’s art, human creativity, ingenuity, and progress face off against the inevitable natural and biological imperatives of birth, growth, death, and evolution, securing the timeless struggle for survival.

  1. Quoted in an interview with Hans-Ulrich Obrist in John Slyce and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, eds., Sarah Sze, exh. cat. (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1998), unpaginated.

  2. Sze, artist talk at the Walker, May 19, 2002 (videotape, Walker Art Center Archives).

  3. The visitor’s encounter with Sze’s microcosmic worlds parallels the experience of entering the Conservatory, which is itself a contrived environment. In the same way that the Conservatory is a shelter for tropical trees and botanical specimens that could never survive in the northern climate outside its protective structure, Sze’s artificial ecosystem is safe from the elements and contains things that appear to be growing and dying out, hence her choice of title.

  4. Sze, correspondence with the author, July 2, 2002 (Walker Art Center Archives).

Carpenter, Elizabeth. “Sarah Sze.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center