At the Whitney Museum of American Art, Sarah Sze revels in the fantasy of miscellany
Howard Halle -- Interior Design, 9/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Just outside the Whitney Museum of American Art, a denuded sapling peeks above the granite-concrete parapet surrounding the sunken sculpture court. This lone apparition is spray-painted in the exact shade of "safety" orange normally associated with the cones, barricades, and netting found on construction sites. Here, too, the color signals the presence of what lies beneath: the rest of an outdoor installation by Sarah Sze.
"Most of my materials were in fact things I spotted on construction sites near my studio," the artist says. "The piece refers to both construction sites and archaeological digs, places where something is happening." Indeed, a lot goes on in her multilevel meditation on art and the urban context—which took the artist and a four-person crew three weeks to erect.
A glance from the sidewalk reveals scattered found-object archipelagos poking out of a blue ocean of styrofoam-insulation slabs. And the aqueous metaphor is particularly appropriate to Sze's chosen title. The Triple Point of Water refers to the temperature and pressure at which the oxide of hydrogen exists somewhere in equilibrium between solid and liquid, liquid and gas. "Water is something we see all the time," she says. "When you actually think about it, though, it's pretty phenomenal." Similarly, she conceived this piece as oscillating between conditions—inside and out, above ground and below.
To encourage viewers to explore the installation's underside, Sze strung eye-catching safety-orange yarn in a web that extends from a corner by the Whitney's entrance. All is revealed from a downstairs vantage point in the museum café: an elaborate framework of white PVC pipe supporting painted-metal cages and glass aquariums, each of which contains a diorama of real and fake plants, tubes of caulking, delicately carved plastic plates, and the like. Portraying a multiplicity of miniature scales within a larger, monumental one, these individual units suggest display cases at a museum as well as cages at a zoo. The Triple Point of Water's overall structure steps downward in an inverted pyramid form, reminiscent of Marcel Breuer's cantilevered profile for the Whitney itself.