As the United States representative to last summer’s Venice Biennale, Sarah Sze orchestrated a masterly series of installations in the American pavilion. Insidiously undermining the pavilion’s grand Palladian architecture and its intimations of empire, her sprawling project “Triple Point” confused indoors with out: It opened up side entrances and hidden spaces, spread like kudzu along the building’s roof and crept into a storage closet in the rotunda. And like her previous works, it distorted the visitor’s sense of scale with dizzying agglomerations of tiny objects.
A component of “Triple Point” has now come home to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the institution that commissioned the pavilion. Unfortunately, the particular piece on view is the most hermetic and least interesting of the bunch. Titled “Triple Point (Planetarium),” it’s a self-contained universe that shows off Ms. Sze’s assemblage skills but not her viral site-specificity, her gift for latching onto and transforming architecture.
Circumscribed by large wooden hoops and a compass rose outlined in tape on the floor (a feature inspired by the inlaid floor of the Venice pavilion’s entry rotunda), “Planetarium” has a mostly spherical structure. Inside are suspended orbs of various sizes and weights, among them a miniature disco ball, a wadded-up piece of newspaper, a spiky cluster of twigs and a single dandelion puff. Also visible throughout are small sculptural tableaus: a mini-rotunda made out of landscape photographs and toothpicks, a small garden of rocks and sticks on a desk, a group of paper pagodas atop a stool. Some of them are illuminated by strategically placed lamps, clip-on lights and overhead projectors. Accessories like vise grips, tripods and clamps serve a practical function, holding the whole arrangement together, and contribute to a general sense of industriousness.
“Planetarium” certainly showcases Ms. Sze’s exquisite responsiveness to prosaic materials. Items from the hardware store and school-supply aisle succumb to her deft and inventive handling, as in the cluster of torn pieces of ruled loose-leaf paper and blue electrical tape that form a broken membrane (resembling a cracked eggshell) at the top of the sculpture.
But the piece as a whole feels uncharacteristically disconnected. It does not help that “Planetarium” has been installed at one end of a large rectangular gallery, where it looks totally adrift (aside from a few blue strings that tether it tenuously to a nearby “Exit” sign and a couple of extension cords that power the lights and fans in the installation).
In Venice, “Triple Point” spilled out from the United States pavilion to buildings surrounding the Giardini; as part of the project, Ms. Sze approached local people and even placed some of her sculpted boulders in and around their homes and shops.
She also envisioned “Triple Point” as the culmination of a residency in which she worked with materials scavenged in Venice and saved detritus from the two-month installation process. The final and most elaborate piece in the series, “Observatory,” was set up like an artist’s studio and included a sleeping bag that made the room look lived in.
That indoor-outdoor piece, with its sense of rootedness and community, would have been a more natural choice for the New York presentation. The Bronx Museum has a long terrace, accessible from the second floor, that could have functioned more or less like the courtyard in the Venetian installation. Some tweaks would doubtless have been necessary, but adaptability has always been one of Ms. Sze’s strengths. In the catalog for “Triple Point,” she describes another component of the Venice installation as “a whole system you could imagine folding up, traveling with, and setting up again, like a Russian Constructivist kiosk.”
Ms. Sze (pronounced ZEE) could also have given “Planetarium” more presence by incorporating local materials or by extending the footprint of the piece in some way (as she did with her trail of rocks in Venice). And the museum could easily have used multimedia tools to provide a glimpse of the other works in “Triple Point.”
In transposing a piece of the American pavilion from the Giardini to the Grand Concourse, the Bronx Museum aspired to make the rarefied world of the Venice Biennale more accessible; officials wanted “to give our local audiences a way to connect to this major international exhibition,” in the words of the Bronx Museum’s executive director, Holly Block, who commissioned the Venice pavilion with the critic and independent curatorCarey Lovelace. That’s an admirable goal, but the neatly contained “Triple Point (Planetarium)” makes the magically chaotic experience of Venice look, if anything, even more remote.