Sarah Sze’s installations exist somewhere between magic ritual, science experiment and cabinet of curiosities. Sze hasn’t done a gallery show in New York for five years, and this time she’s gone all out, filling the entire two floors of Tanya Bonakdar gallery.
Following the lines of painter’s tape, string, rope, wire, like schematics lead the eye, we find an extraordinary assemblage of everyday objects, repackaged, repurposed, reinvested with new meaning. Endless shelves house minerals, electronics, plants, bottles, soap, electric fans all teetering implausibly at a maybe 10 degree tilt, held up, we’re led to believe, by ropes tied to cinder blocks at one end of the room and leaning against the wall at the other end. A large roll of crumpled brown paper providing a buffer between one of the shelves and the gallery wall resembles a human form, deflated, like it just got socked in the gut. Paper and toothpick constructs imitate everyday objects. Fans create ripples on the surface of water in small dishes, which are illuminated by light bulbs, the ripples reflecting and undulating. Tiny stones are arranged in patterns like sand paintings. Clothespins create patterns while dragged through piles of sand or salt, attached by strings to oscillating fans or other moving elements. There’s almost too much to see, too many details to recount, one’s eye and mind engaged on all levels at any given moment.
Like a series of Fischli and Weiss equilibres, Sze’s installations are delicate eco-systems that involve a mind-boggling balancing act. Following the lines from ground to ceiling, my mind goes over the physics of it, the tension, the entropy, when suddenly I see a piece missing, one little pebble absent between a support leg and a huge structure reaching the ceiling. It must be IMPOSSIBLE I think for a split second, before realizing that the structure is mainly suspended from lines dropping from the ceiling. But it’s these moments of pure disbelief that make the installations rather magical, almost heart-stopping.
Sze’s work recalls childhood and fascination, using objects like those found in an elementary school classroom: cots, mobiles, toothpick sculptures, overhead projectors. Small children would indeed love this exhibit, but unless they are quite mature and well-behaved it might do well to have them leashed before bringing them into the gallery. Us mature adults even had a few problems. I witnessed a near disaster as one woman was inspecting the objects on the shelves, her head slowly moving along the length of the shelf, not noticing a jutting two-by-four with some precarious jars resting atop it. I’m watching this happen before my eyes and I quickly draw in my breath in a strong gasp. She hears me and looks up just before her head would have hit the two-by-four. Disaster averted! But what could have HAPPENED? I wonder with morbid curiosity. “This is the most nervous I’ve ever been looking at a piece,” said a bystander. I encourage everyone to take part in the nerve-wracking thrill of Sze's installations--everyone that is except the woman who recently fell and ripped a Picasso at the Met. She's not invited.