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Sarah Sze at Victoria Miro Gallery

by Rachel McHale | 27 October 2021

Known for challenging static sculpture and emphasising transformation, the contemporary artist Sarah Sze creates works in a state of suspension. This monographic exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery, including work scaled especially to the space, expands these themes, bringing to light a constant dynamism. Sze’s works can be found in Gallery II, reached by ascending an immense seventy-two-step staircase contained within an extremely narrow corridor: one of the gallery’s many quirks. On the white walls of the long, tall gallery hang six large paintings. Scaled specifically to this space, these new paintings reveal Sze’s ongoing preoccupation with works in motion. Conceived in pairs, the paintings show a development and transformation from one piece into another, emphasising a state of endless flux. The two parts of a pair are hung opposite each other, highlighting links and creating a dialogue between the two. Navigating from one side of the gallery to the other, I was drawn to the interchange the pairs present. Each painting can be viewed as a stage within a broader process of evolution; yet no hierarchy is imposed between the two, rejecting the idea of a beginning and a finished product and instead laying emphasis on mutual influences and development. Sze’s consideration of each individual artwork as ‘a window into a chain of ongoing decisions’ is eminent; the changes between each painting underline the various steps in their development from one piece to the other.

Sarah Sze, Imprint, 2021. Oil paint, acrylic paint, acrylic polymers, ink, aluminium, diabond and wood. © Sarah Sze. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

Sarah Sze, Imprint Apparition, 2021. Oil paint, acrylic paint, acrylic polymers, ink, aluminium, diabond and wood.© Sarah Sze. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

What is most striking is the way her works seemingly expand into the gallery space. Her sculptures, as part of the Fallen Sky series related to her huge site-specific installation on the hillside of Storm King Arts Center in New York, are intimately connected to their surroundings. Like the installation in New York (although on a much smaller scale), the sculptures reflect their environment. They draw in outside elements such as trees and clouds, and change depending on the weather, appearing blue on a bright day and grey on a cloudy day. One sculpture occupies the outside space at the back of the gallery that precedes the route upstairs, perfectly highlighting the work’s reflection of the outside world and acting as an insight into what is to come inside. Adapting to their surroundings, the sculptures are in a constant state of transformation, furthering Sze’s emphasis on evolution seen in her paintings. As the sculptures are comprised of many different individual pieces, Sze focuses on a sense of fragmentation – a broader theme in her work.

Sarah Sze, Air from Air (Fallen Sky Series), 2021. Stainless steel. © Sarah Sze. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

Similarly, her large paintings are made up of countless fragmented elements. Collage pieces, including scraps of train tickets, photographs and coloured paper, are integrated amidst vibrant paints, imbuing the works with an incredible texture. The use of collage does not, however, create soft edges as one might expect. Instead, clear shapes and lines are visible within the works. I found myself mesmerised by them, staring into these squares and shapes, trying to locate the centre. My eyes flicked from the middle to the edge and back again. Yet just as I was drawn in, the shapes simultaneously point outwards, the squares and rectangles mirroring the shape of the gallery.

Sarah Sze, Double Take Apparition, 2021. Oil paint, acrylic paint, acrylic polymers, ink, aluminium, diabond and wood. © Sarah Sze. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

The gallery does away with wall texts, instead inviting viewers to read about the exhibition online by scanning QR codes. Whilst this perhaps means that elements of the creative process go unremarked, I think it makes the dialogue between the works all the more fruitful. Situated in between the pieces, the viewer is a more present witness to the constant transformation explored through these works, and is left to draw their own parallels. Sze does not simply create finished works of art at which to marvel; behind these paintings and sculptures lies an emphasis on process and transformation, forming an exhibition that hums with a constant motion.


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