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Sarah Sze at the Guggenheim Museum
Sarah Sze: Timelapse. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, March 31–September 10, 2023. https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/sarah-sze-timelapse
Ekphrasis: It’s a tricky concept. For the Greeks it meant the rephrasing of one medium in the language of another, but you can see how this could get interesting. Ekphrasis became a test of the writer’s skills: the critic’s task was not to tell whether they liked the work or not, but rather to describe what was already there. Inevitably, the sophists raised the stakes by suggesting that the medium itself, whether words, or paint, or stone, would limit the critic’s ability to reproduce the experience of the original artwork. The critics ‘own challenge was to find equivalents in words or stone or paint for stone or paint or words—in other terms, to be an artist in their own medium.
Every exhibition at the Guggenheim is an ekphrasis on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. He would have wanted it that way. Architecture was to Wright what the Idea was to Plato: the ultimate object of all simulacra. As I wrote way back,
The common complaint since the building opened in 1959 was that Wright’s design made the artists look bad; it only made the bad artists look as bad as they’d been to begin with, if by bad artists you mean those who were incapable of engaging with their environment.
I’d had my doubts about Sarah Sze’s installation at the Guggenheim New York. I thought her project at the Venice Biennale in 2013 failed to define the space, and not being able to redefine Frank Lloyd Wright’s space is the kiss of death. How wrong I was. But how dare I define with words her own success defining space? Isn’t the challenge of ekphrasis that, precisely: the the work can never be properly described?
Help me out. I’m trying.
May 28, 2023