Sarah Sze: Gravity Defying Installation American Pavilion Venice Biennale

Sarah Sze’s gravity defying installation, representing the US at the Venice Biennale this year, takes the title “Triple Point” from the singular combination of temperature and pressure at which all three phases of a substance (liquid, gas, and solid) exist in perfect equilibrium. Measuring distance from three ordinal points, triangulation is also used to specify a unique location in space. This work references these ideas, the fragility of equilibrium and the constant desire for stability and location.

The Boston born artist is well known to New Yorkers for her large scale, virtuoso museum and gallery shows, and “Still Life with Landscape, “ a habitat for birds at the popular Chelsea High Line. “Triple Point” commissioned by the Bronx Museum, is curated by Bronx Museum director Holly Block and feminist art historian and curator Carey Lovelace.  Located in America’s poorest Congressional district, The Bronx Museum, under Block’s tenure has fostered greater visibility for the contemporary collection and exhibitions, and a dynamic outreach with the local community. “Triple Point” actively creates a relationship between the Bronx and Venice, with educational outreach programs, including a Teen Exchange between Venetian and Bronx high schoolers. This is also the first American pavilion to present all women artists, commissioners, catalogue writers and local University fabricators.  The project has been documented as it is created, live streaming on a Website accessible through the Bronx Museum.

“Triple Point” incorporates Sze’s signature use of quotidan materials, using Venetian and American objects in her five site specific environments. Sze, who first participated in a Biennale in 1999, has long studied the classical Palladian style American pavilion built in the 1930’s and “imagined what I would do with this space.”

Her off kilter, highly personal installation uses leaves from the Giardini, local pebbles placed in careful shamanic piles, seashells, clamps, rubber bands, TV antennas, extension cords, Venetian photographs, tapes, delicate twig constellations. The exhibition evolved on site during a three month installation period.

The pavilion entrance is crowned with a sculptural web that features weightless rocks, which are also visible throughout the pavilion. Sze has created an intricate world within a world, one of precarious equilibrium and a highly personal poetry. Mirrored walls reflect a rainbow of images, a pile of the inflatable rocks, and classical vessels. Viewers journey through different environments, replete with a cornucopia of images and experiences. Sze has re-routed the Pavilion entrance, and the viewer encounters seemingly makeshift structures, scientific devices, and a framed view of a pastoral garden space.

American Ambassador David Thorne referred to “an increased pressure from the problems we are having in Washington” and also heralded “Triple Point” as a giving a “broader feel to American art.”  In the choice of Sarah Sze, one of the leading artists of her generation, and The Bronx Museum as a sponsoring organization, I am proud to see my country making a wise and welcome creative decision. Sze ‘s “Triple Point” reflects a cross-cultural experience that is both accessible and beautiful, and as the commissioning institution the Bronx Museum receives a wider and well deserved visibility.

Words/Photo:  Ilka Scobie

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