Monday, August 19, 2013

Sarah Sze's American Sublime at the 2013 Venice Biennale

It's easy to feel rather overwhelmed by Sarah Sze's elaborate and marvelous constructions made of every-day materials
If I weren't traveling right now the work of Sarah Sze in the US Pavilion at the Biennale would probably inspire any number of reflections on the nature of the sublime: from Longinus's first ancient formulation of it, through Kant's, to recent notions of it by the French theorist Jean-François Lyotard. In other words, Dear Reader, consider yourself quite lucky that I'm on the road.

The true experience of the sublime, according to all these folks, might in the loosest sense be termed mind-blowing. Whether experienced in Nature (amid, say, the Alps) or in a work of art (in, according to Lyotard, the most ambitious works of Jackson Pollock), we know that we stand before the Sublime when the magnitude, majesty, immensity, complexity and awe-inspiring beauty of what we're looking at seems to exceed our capacity to take it all in, to make sense of it according to our usual categories of thought.  

A universe of found objects
The marvelous thing about Sze's works in the Biennale is that this sense of the sublime is inspired in the viewer by complex constructions of the most common household items: a whole solar system, for example, as seen above, composed of Krispy crackers, bottled water, Pringles potato chips, rocks and yarn and hardware store items... Its concrete quotidian yet still remarkable beauty is very much in the tradition not just of artists such as Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns, but of a poet like William Carlos Williams.

The poet Charles Simic wrote a great little book about what he called the artist Joseph Cornell's Dimestore Alchemy. In these works of Sarah Sze we're introduced to a kind of Hardware Store Transcendence. 


  1. Even if I kept all my found objects and rubbish for a week, I'd never have the creativity to achieve a result such as this. If I consult a therapist, he/she may blame it on my parents!

    1. Of course, Yvonne, you can never know for sure about what you might do with a week's worth of rubbish if you never try (and won't your neighbors and/or friends be thanking me for suggesting something like this?).