New York City-based Sarah Sze is a contemporary artist whose work deals with the intersection of painting and sculpture. Her sculptures and intricate paintings and installations use collage and objects to create mixed-media landscapes. She incorporates found objects such as electric lights, fans, tools, water systems, plants, etc. into her installations. Her compositions seem to mirror the improvisational quality of cities and everyday life.
Sze graduated summa cum laude in 1991 from Yale University receiving a B.A. in architecture and painting. She received an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in 1997. She has received numerous awards and grants, including the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 1999 and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2003.
Sze constructs her works by hand on an architectural scale, building towers that fill entire exhibition spaces. Her compositions reference landscape and architecture as her sprawling installations and sculptures emphasize delicate lines and stretch across museums, suspended from floor to ceiling.
In 2011, Sze constructed an installation on the High Line in New York City. It allowed visitors to move and walk through her piece which was an actual habitat for birds. In the same year her “Random Walk Drawing (Grey Landscape),” is a drawing-sculpture on paper. It is an investigation into the representational and physical experience of landscape. It begins with a rolled photographic print of the sky, signaling landscape’s basic elements of earth and sky divided by the horizon. She references the use of foreground, middle ground, and background through a torn shade that suggests a window, with the painting seen as a framed view of the world. There is a stool and a shirt that point to the artist in the landscape while the twigs indicate nature. The arch of joined rods represents the distance between viewer and object, and her use of rolled print and shade reference Chinese scrolls
From 2013 through 2015 Sze’s work showed a repeated concern with the nature of time and how an artist can talk about time in a painting or sculpture. Her “Still Life with Desk” is a mixed-media sculpture that is frozen in a definite moment of time – January 1, 2014. In her “Calendar Series” she took 90 front pages of “The New York Times” and cut out the the paper’s photographs, replacing them with images of nature.
In 2017, her mural “Blueprint for a Landscape” was completed for the 96th Street 2nd Avenue subway platform in New York City. She wanted to mirror how we move through space. In recent years Sze has returned to painting, producing works that translate her process of making sculpture into detailed and highly textured collaged paintings.
Her 2021 “Fallen Sky” (to be unveiled to the public June 12) at the Storm King Art Center in New York is a concave sculpture which flips the sky into the earth. She created it from the negative space dug out of the ground. Its delicate 36-foot-diameter spherical cavity, pressed into the earth, is sheathed in mirrored stainless steel. Each of the 130 steel pieces is formed from metal poured into molds, made by compressing sand around Sze’s handmade clay sculptures. The resultant shimmering surface allows the work to be seen from far away.
Juxtaposed with “Fallen Sky” is a multimedia installation, “Fifth Season,” created for the adjacent indoor exhibition space as a counterpoint. This is a 50-foot immersive, floor-to-ceiling, multimedia assemblage of painting, collage, clay, video, sound, and photos that spills through the building’s doors toward the expanse of Storm King’s lawns.
In 2013, Sze represented the United States at the 55th Venice Biennale with a solo pavilion presentation. Her work has been exhibited at the Asia Society Museum in New York, New York’s Guggenheim Museum, London’s Serpentine Gallery, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Malmo Konsthall, Palm Spring Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Sao Paulo Bienal, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and others.
Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, Tate Collection London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and others.