Some works of art inspire a passing glance. Others might encourage onlookers to linger a little longer, taking in all the details. But a rare few manage to actually draw in passersby for an extended period, enjoying the piece as an experience rather than just something to look at. For a piece lacking any video, audio, lights, or moving parts, that can be quite a feat.
Artist Sarah Sze pulls this off with her fascinating photographic installations combining elements of collage, found objects, and kinetic sculpture. Her most recent work, “Shorter than the Day,” is a three-dimensional sphere consisting almost entirely of 1,000 photos of the New York sky. Sunrise, sunset, hazy clouds, and the full glare of the mid-afternoon sun hang above an atrium in Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, all fastened to an enormous steel frame weighing five tons.
The photographic installation creates a sort of exploded view of the sky, as if Sze took a display featuring every gradient of blue, white, red, orange, purple, and black imaginable and blew it up, sending its fragments scattering into the air. The printed images are attached to the frame with alligator clips, all facing slightly different directions so you have to walk a full circle around it and stand beneath it to take it all in. Seeing it in its completion is actually impossible, since you can’t hover overhead, so in that way, parts of it always remain a mystery.
The piece was commissioned by LaGuardia Gateway Partners and Public Art Fund and measures 48 feet high, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. The Public Art Fund describes it as “an intricate constellation” evoking the passage of time, charting “a cyclical journey” via the colors of the sky. As indicated by the title, “Shorter Than the Day” takes inspiration from the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name, which includes the line, “We passed the Setting Sun / Or rather — He passed us.”
“Since the late 1990s, Sze has used a wide variety of media to explore the intersection of information, technology, materiality, and time,” writes the Art Fund. “In her sculptures, she engineers elaborate assemblages from everyday objects held together in a delicate balance, as though perpetually on the cusp of metamorphosis. Sze’s works are a study in contrasts — plane and volume, stillness and movement, organization and chaos — whose simultaneous opposition and attraction create a sense of magnetic tension.”
“Though precisely constructed, her large-scale installations express an organic, kinetic feel, emerging like an evocative gesture across an expanse of space. Shorter Than the Day is Sze’s largest and most structurally complex sculpture to date. The work subtly conflates the ephemeral and the immutable while revealing traces of the fabrication process: the deckle-edged photographs themselves and the numbered fragments of yellow tape that demarcate their placement are both durable powder-coated metal facsimiles. In this way, Sze’s sculpture both considers the fluid nature of time and functions as a capsule of the work’s own creation. Sze lives and works in New York, NY.”