23 Questions for Installation Artist and Draughtsman Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze
(Cortesia da Asia Society)


Name: Sarah Sze
Age: 42
Occupation: Artist
City/Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen


What project are you working on now?

I’m working on a show at Victoria Miro Gallery that will open June in London. I’m also working on a series for the AADA art fair for Tanya Bonakdar, a commission for the High Museum, and the design of the 96th street station for the Second Avenue MTA.

Your current show at the Asia Society seems to mark something of a sea change in your work. For years you’ve been pegged as an installation artist interested in the minutiae of consumer culture; in this new show, you emerge as a draughtsman invested in the formal qualities of Chinese landscape paintings. How does your interest in traditional Chinese art relate to your work as an installation artist?

I wanted to make a very precise show at the Asia Society — a show about drawing and the use of line in my work. One room is a selection of older works on paper from 1997-2010 most of which has never been shown before and the other room has sculptures that are all new, all made with the relationship of drawing to sculpture in mind. I was interested in making sculptures on the wall and drawings on the floor. Installing in the larger room, I was particularly focused on the negative space in the room and how to measure and sculpt the negative space so that there was a tension between the works — a tension between whether they were individual works, a series of works, one work — and a subtle disorientation of the entire space. There is a blurring of how line is used to create space in two and in and three dimensions. Installing, I thought of how line functions to locate and dislocate us in space, and furthermore how it functions in landscape, I thought of the whole space as landscape, of the experience of space as one moves through landscape. 

You’ve spoken before about drawing as being “the meat and potatoes” of your artwork in that it allows you to record preliminary information and experiment with the growth of your piece — which is rare for a contemporary artist, given that drawing often seems to be a skill that is going the way of penmanship, and losing its long-held place as the core of artistic practice. What do you think artists lose when they don't draw?

I think of drawing in a much wider context — I think of it as the cursor on this page, the route you walk to work, the map I just googled for directions, or the print in the label in your t-shirt. I think of drawing as lines created in space, on the page, on a screen, or just mentally and emotionally to make sense of information or to convey information. So when artists draw it’s not about the page or the hand, it’s about connecting dots and the charting of complex information in whatever form that may take. The show plays with images that work with information and perception — color test charts, eye charts, perspective techniques — and looks at how an image can reveal and make sense of information.

Your father was an architect, and you studied architecture at Yale before focusing exclusively on visual art at SVA. How does this affect the way you approach the architecture of the gallery space when creating your installations?

I approach the location though its scale, its circulation, its light, its history, the nature of the public, the original architectural intensions, and the successes of those intensions. I consider the utilities, the means of egress, and the safety and security of the place.

You became a certified genius when you were awarded a Macarthur in 2003. How did that recognition affect your work, and how did it impact your career as an artist?

It gave me a great sense of freedom in my work. A Macarthur is great in every way, but in terms of your question about recognition specifically, the recognition from a Macarthur is most precious in its weight within the wider public. Sadly, artists in general in American culture, I think, are still regarded with a decent amount of distain, and sometimes only something as concrete as a Macarthur mitigates that perspective.

What's the last show that you saw?

The new extension of the Islamic Wing at the Met. 

What's the last show that surprised you? Why?

The new extension of the Islamic Wing at the Met. The colection of work is intense, radiant and truly spectacular. One room has a densely carved wood ceiling in resplendent detail above an enormous rug with a richness of colors that is mind-blowing.

What's your favorite place to see art?

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark. 

Do you make a living off your art?


What's the most indispensable item in your studio?

My iPod. 

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?

The New York Hall of Science, Charles and Ray Eames' “Mathmatica” exhibit, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, tripadvisor.com, Radiohead, and the extended version of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Do you collect anything? 


What's the last artwork you purchased?

A Robert Rauschenberg.  

What's the first artwork you ever sold?

In 1997, a series of small carvings of people and objects made out of Ivory soap and interspersed with found objects.

What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery? 

I always think it’s weird when adults touch paintings, which seems to happen all the time. 

What's your art-world pet peeve?

Maybe that we both understand (or at least think we understand) what “art-world” means? 

What's your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?

Naku Naku on 17th Street for sake and Café Grind on 10th Avenue and 36th Street for coffee. On the Lower East Side: Barrio Chino for anything.

Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?

Mornings when they’re empty. 

Know any good jokes?

No, but my 6-year-old daughter knows tons. Here’s one of hers: “Question: Why is 6 scared of 7? Answer: Because 7, 8, 9.”

What's the last great book you read?

“A Visit From the Good Squad,” by Jennifer Egan. 

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles.”

What would you do to get it?

Tell bad jokes?

What international art destination do you most want to visit?

The Hermitage, Ajanta & Ellora [two fabled caves in India], and the Ise Shrine for a second time.