When you read the words outdoor sculpture, particularly in the context of Storm King Art Center, the sweeping 500-acre en plein air museum in New York’s Hudson Valley, you are likely to imagine a looming metal work straddling grassy knolls like a skyscraper protruding from a cityscape. Trust the contemporary multimedia artist Sarah Sze to upend such expectations.
For Fallen Sky—Storm King’s first permanent commission for its grounds since Maya Lin’s 2008 earthwork, Wavefield—Sze approached the idea of nature-situated art as a delicate give-and-take between the human-made and the organic, rather than as the planting of an aesthetic flag. The installation, opening June 26, consists of 132 stainless steel fragments arranged in a swirling 36-foot diameter spherical cavity. The mirrored surfaces of the individual pieces reflect the surrounding environs and sky (hence the work’s title), while their seemingly rough-hewn bases give them the appearance of emerging from the earth itself, like gleaming tree trunks.
“Fallen Sky is monumental in scale but also reflexive of and deferential to the landscape around it,” says Sze, who created Fallen Sky through both hand-sculpting and digital fabrication. “The view of nature within Fallen Sky is fractal—it doesn’t come together for the viewer, but rather exists only in fragments, like clips from a film.”
Fallen Sky will be accompanied by an exhibition, Fifth Season, which will run through November 8 in Storm King’s Museum Building. And even here, Sze is challenging viewers to dismantle their binary assumptions about interiors and exteriors. Fifth Season is a 50-foot-long multimedia installation, whose collaged surfaces encapsulate images, photographs, and projections and—in characteristic Sze fashion—jump across disciplines like printmaking, video, sculpture, and painting.
“I was interested in thinking through how to ask people to traverse through an interior of an exhibition and then how to spill right back out into nature,” says Sze. “It is impossible to take in Fifth Season at one glance. It encompasses the viewer.”
Ultimately, Fallen Sky and Fifth Season reflect on the ephemerality and materiality of our world, and the tug and pull between the physical and the digital. These are themes Sze has explored previously, notably in Shorter than the Day, her public installation at the new LaGuardia Airport terminal, but they take on an added resonance when situated in Storm King’s natural bounty.
Sze reflects, “Nature isn’t just folded out before us for our taking, but rather fragile—in a constant state of change, as well as loss.”
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