Sarah Sze’s sculpture might teeter into anarchy—if it wasn’t so much fun

“Everything’s in here!” says a young boy, peering into “Corner Plot,” Sarah Sze’s latest work, a miniature wedge of an apartment building protruding provocatively from the pavement at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street. Another small critic is less enthusiastic. “That’s junk,” she says instantly.
Of course, it all depends how you look at it, which is exactly what the artist wants. Even the title of the piece, “Corner Plot,” created under the auspices of New York’s Public Art Fund, has multiple meanings, from prime real estate to cemetery selection. “‘Location, location, location,’ might have been another title,” Sze quips.

“Corner Plot,” on view through October 22, is a meticulous scale model of the generic white brick apartment building catercorner from it at 785 Fifth Avenue. Through its windows one can glimpse a teeming microcosm composed of Sze’s trademark references: push pins, toilet paper, salt shakers, cotton balls, light bulbs, a fire extinguisher: quotidian detritus.

Sze, 37, a 2003 MacArthur “genius” award recipient, is an expert at engineering extraordinary environments out of ordinary materials. “I started making sculptures thinking about how objects acquire personal and social value,” she explains. “I wanted to start with objects that were new, that had no history and no value, and were cheap, and to place them in an arrangement that gave them an acquired meaning that elevated them from the quotidian, mundane, and the practical, as opposed to the aesthetic.”

These everyday items have multiple narratives, as does the entire structure, which looks like Dorothy’s Wizard-of-Oz house had toppled into New York instead of Kansas—or a partially submerged bomb shelter. “I wanted there to be
multiple readings and this quality of everything shifting, so you can’t place yourself,” says Sze, a master of controlled chaos and carefully constructed deconstruction.

While many artists of her generation live the mantra of
“I digitize, therefore I am,” Sze has taken almost the opposite tack. She manipulates actual—not virtual—reality, earthly goods instead of gigabytes. Not that she isn’t adept with the current technology. After doing “gestural sketches of ‘Corner Plot’”, she “photoshopped the exterior” until she got the desired effect.
Sze was brought up in Chinese-American household, strewn with blueprints. “In terms of cultural identity, I grew up sort of outside the status quo, in a multi-racial, multiethnic family.” Her father is a Boston-based architect and her mother is a school teacher. Sze, who studied at the Yale School of Art, started out as a painter, and even spent a year in Japan, studying ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement.) “What I am really interested in is space,” she says. “How you create or lose it, and how things become located, which is such an essential architectural idea. I like to explore how small spaces can inhabit large imaginations and vice versa,” she says.

“Corner Plot” is a literal case in point.—Phoebe Hoban



“I digitize, therefore I am.