Mountainville, New York
Sarah Sze’s Fallen Sky—Storm King’s first permanent commissioned outdoor sculpture since Maya Lin installed Storm King Wavefield in 2008—resembles a silhouetted planet earth, as if photographed from space. Composed of 130 polished steel fragments nestled into native grasses, it occupies the site where a large tree once stood. The fairly intact curving crescent lifting up from the ground contrasts with the more broken-up curvature below to suggest entropy: the “fallen sky” is disappearing into the earth, subject to the elements, new growth, and changing seasons.
Fifth Season, Sze’s indoor installation created for Storm King’s main gallery (on view through November 8, 2021), picks up on this theme, proposing a new season, born of imagination. The composition flows in many directions, physically and conceptually, suggesting city and country, the natural and built worlds, the pandemic and its aftermath. The 11,000 component pieces start as a wall- and floor-based promenade through a landscape that cascades outward and inward as multiple old-fashioned slide projectors and more up-to-date digital projectors shoot out light, roam across the gallery, move images in loops, replay images of captured light, and reveal shadows outside their frames—literally bringing nature and viewers into a field of static and moving elements.
The multisensory visual feast also reflects on the creative process. It breaks down and lays out materials, tools, and processes applied to the creation of art—box cutters, glue, drawing and painting tools, papers, and canvas line the perimeters of the piece and rove inward—a maximalist approach to planes and volumes that Richard Serra honed at Storm King as a Minimalist (Schunnemunk Fork, 1991). Fifth Season also includes maquettes, drawings, cutouts, and mixed-media works related to Fallen Sky, suggesting some of the ways that Sze meditates on and experiments with a new idea before it is fully realized. Artist Buzz Spector, who has some familiarity with Sze’s process, says, “Sze makes plans in order to discard them. She came here with a clue but not with a script.”
Hands appear in many frames and media, signifying the common human desire to make; one set of hands moving under water is especially intriguing. As viewers circle Fifth Season, gyroscopes of color on the wall and floor reveal what may be the earth, private inner worlds, or outer space. A series of black grids could represent New York City’s shutdown during the pandemic, or they might signal abstract building blocks for an idea. The entire installation offers countless openings into broader thoughts and associations, including how to better understand our own and the planet’s seasons.
If the message of Fifth Season harbors hope and possible renewal, Fallen Sky seems to caution against the effects of climate change and environmental abuse, its fractured circle and crescent symbolism prompting natural, cultural, and spiritual associations. The finished work, reinforced by its earlier iterations in Fifth Season, embodies a concept that is timeless yet unique, beautiful in its rough-edged, broken state—of our time and of the future.