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Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013. Photo: Evelyn Saleh.


American Vision

Sarah Sze at the US Pavilion

By Monica Trevisan

It looks like the time of empty shoeboxes like the one exhibited at the Venice Biennale of 1993 is over. Maybe. 

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In a recent television interview on MTV Italy, critic and curator Francesco Bonami suggested this, saying we probably will see fewer and fewer artists that who have nothing to say yet insist on saying it anyway.
 
This could be a moment of transition in the evolution of contemporary art. A sign of this change can be read in the selection of Massimiliano Gioni as curator of the 55th Venice Biennale. 

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The title given to the Biennale, Palazzo Enciclopedico, shows that Gioni wants to present art as meaning, knowledge, research, introspection, to present vision and art as the ability to give shape to thought.

In my opinion this Bienniale shows how art could be a language, which can say something, make a suggestion or create an image.
The various countries’ national pavilions propose something totally disjointed from the theme of the Biennale, though some of them do seem to be in line with Gioni’s ideas. 

I was particularly impressed by the work of the American sculptor Sarah Sze in the American pavilion.
The American pavilion at the gardens of Biennale is a building inspired by Palladio’s architecture. The central part has a dome reminiscent of Palladio’s famous “Rotonda”. Outside there is a portico with four Doric columns and a tympanum on the top.

Palladio's architecture borrows the main concepts of Roman and Greek classical architecture: each element has a precise measure, which is proportional to the measures of the other elements together and forms a harmonious whole.

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Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013. Photo: Evelyn Saleh.

The size of the rooms had ratios of length, width and height analogous to music. For Palladio, to compose architecture was like composing music.

Sarah Sze invades the American pavilion with her work. She owns the space and the architecture. 
Outside the artist shows Gleaner, which is a kind of a clue for the visitor because the work is best understood from a window inside located at the end of the exhibition.

Part of it is made up of large stones, like erratic stones of the Baltic sea, which with a light metal structure, a scale and other items ascend to the height of the pavilion’s dome. Some stones lie on the ground and somehow mark the location for the visitor.  

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Sze presents a series of works that together form a unique whole called Triple Point

The title means the moment at which three physical states--gas, liquid and solid--can co-exist. 

The works consists of objects collected by the artist in Venice. She is able to create a fascinating complexity rich in tension.

In Planetarium she creates a new star system consisting of small plastic objects, postcards, ribbons, fans, lamps, and metal parts.

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Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013. Photo: Evelyn Saleh.

It seems to be a universe of fragments, each with a strong identity. There is something in the choice of materials, in their positions and in the composition of the work that recalls the laboratory of a scientist. The tables also suggest a craftsman’s workshop or an architect's workspace.
 
The materials collected by the artist tell us of a contemporary world. Though there are remains of ancient vessels that can still be found around Venice, Sze decided to collect objects just of our time--clean, neat shapes and colors, sometimes a little aseptic. She seems to favor anything that reminds one of the lab. Everything is clean, perfect, isolated; everything has a very precise location, and yet the whole is not static. There is a lot of energy, a lot of tension in a work like Orrery where objects are placed on a shelf. 

Light and shadow are the main compositional elements of Eclipse. The work is formed by tables that intersect on different levels, lit by table lamps, with round holes that have the circular part cropped to a lower level that casts a wider shadow on the floor.

Around the circular shape of the shades there is a bright outline, an effect similar to that of an eclipse.

The legs of the tables are like the legs of a compass; blue marks in the floor identify small piles of sand that look like small volcanoes and other elements.

Scale arises in the central circular room of the pavilion. It is a huge boulder (aluminum and plastic coated with photos of stone) positioned off-center. It has nothing to do with the room but, like the erratic stones that stand horizontality in the Baltic sea, it reflects the human condition of loneliness, placing the individual in the world, but randomly, not at the center.

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Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013. Photo: Evelyn Saleh.


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Monica Trevisan is an architect and curator who lives and works in Venice, Italy.