Museum  June 12, 2023  Howard Halle

Sarah Sze: Timelapse at the Guggenheim

Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Installation view, Sarah Sze: Timelapse, Things Caused to Happen (Oculus), 2023, March 31—September 10, 2023, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 

A while back, NASA trained its giant James Webb Space Telescope on several distant galaxies that emerged a mere 500 to 700 million years after the universe came into being 14 billion years ago and found them to be much larger and more mature than they should have been according to the accepted understanding of stellar formation. The discovery blew a massive hole in the Big Bang theory—a reminder that our attempts to comprehend creation continue to fall short. In a more metaphorical vein, Sarah Sze tries to wrestle the cosmos into apprehensible, concrete form in her Guggenheim show, Timelapse, though it, too, seems to be an example of reach exceeding grasp, albeit with respect to visual coherence.

Comprising projections on the museum’s exterior as well as sculptural installations taking up its top two levels, Timelapse provides ample evidence of the dizzying complexity Sze has consistently taken as her default mode—an approach that usually rebounds to her advantage given how often viewers mistake elaborateness for significance.

Photo: Deborah Feingold, Courtesy Guggenheim Museum

Portrait Sarah Sze

Sze’s work always seems to be perpetually under construction and deconstruction, and you can be forgiven for being confused about whether the pieces here are in the process of being put up or taken down—an impression re-enforced by the presence of tools, ladders, clamps, safety fencing, and other accouterments of the workshop or building site. These items are simply some of the myriads of objects and scraps of imagery that seem to be tenuously bound together by chewing gum and baling wire. Spindly superstructures made of rods, dowels, and fishing lines suspend hundreds of these elements in a midair dance of debris, like centers that will not hold in a holding pattern.

Sze’s assemblages can be dazzling at times, and twee at others. Her central conceit, that all this busyness allegorizes information flow in the digital age, isn’t entirely convincing, but her command of materials is impressive. 

Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Installation view, Sarah Sze: Timelapse, Time Zero, 2023, March 31—September 10, 2023, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

As for the show’s cosmological spin, Sze’s installations do sometimes recall those computer models of the universe spreading out like synaptic tendrils of gas and dust, but the connection is made clearer in an outdoor video projection on the Guggenheim’s facade that tracks the phases of the moon in real-time.

Inside, the offerings include Things Caused to Happen (Oculus), a planetary orb of tiny screens, with equally tiny videos of random images flickering upon them. This sphere is nestled within a dense scaffolding of sticks held together with hot glue—evoking, perhaps, the way gravity dents the fabric of spacetime or something like it.

Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Installation view, Sarah Sze: Timelapse, Diver, 2023, March 31—September 10, 2023, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

This is fine far as it goes, but the real problem with Timelapse is the exhibition occupying the rest of the rotunda. Sensing a felicitous pairing, the curators have annexed Sze’s outing to Gego: Measuring Infinity, a retrospective of the German-Venezuelan midcentury modernist born Gertrud Goldschmidt (1912–1994). The latter’s title is meant to sell the comparison between the two artists, and while Gego was more of a formalist than Sze, both artists do explore the relationship between line and volume in a manner suggesting that space is the place in more ways than one. Both build structures resembling three-dimensional diagrams, but while Gego’s latticed, geodesic objects evince elegant restraint, Sze goes for baroque, festooning her work with digressive details and narrative filigree.  

Perhaps Sze’s show would have been better off somewhere other than the Guggenheim, whose ramps tend to bleed one exhibit into the next. At the very least, it should have been confined to the Tower Galleries. As it is, the contrast with Gego offers another reminder: That when it comes to making art, showing is always better than telling.

About the Author

Howard Halle

Howard Halle is a writer and artist who has exhibited his work in the United States and Europe. Between 1981 and 1985, he was Curator of The Kitchen's Gallery and Performance Art series. From 1995 through 2020, he was Chief Art Critic for Time Out New York. He lives and works in Brooklyn.

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