The $8 billion renovation of New York's LaGuardia Airport won't be finished until 2025. But Terminal B is already complete, and it's gorgeous.
The centerpiece is a spectacular new airborne sculpture called "Shorter Than the Day," by artist Sarah Sze, a professor of visual arts at Columbia, a MacArthur "genius" grant recipient, and a mother of two.
Sze said, "When I first proposed it, everyone was like, 'Well, how are you gonna make this? How are you gonna make five tons look like nothing?'"
"I mean, it looks like you could blow it away like a dandelion," said correspondent David Pogue. "How fragile is it, actually?"
"It's not fragile at all!" she laughed.
As you look inside, you see 1,500 photos of the New York sky, arranged from dawn, to midday, to dusk.
Sze said, "You're watching the time of the sun going across the sky as you move, right? So, you're tracing a day.
"You know, a terminal is this incredible place where you're having this shift in time, whether you're arriving or leaving, in this very complex way. So, I wanted the piece to really be about kind of a modeling of time."
Like most of Sze's work, this one is intricately composed of hundreds of interconnected pieces: "For me, it's a 20-year exploration of this idea of how parts come together to make a whole, and where the boundaries are then. What gets included? What doesn't? Where is the frame?"
Sarah Sze was born in Boston in 1969, and almost immediately began making art. "I was making art all the time when I was a little girl – napkins, walls, anything, you know, trash into sculptures, all the time," she said.
Pogue asked, "Does your father's being an architect play a role?"
"The house was filled with models, drawings. You know, we didn't own art, but we went to museums. And for me, museum was like going to, you know, a complete haven."
She majored in architecture and painting at Yale, got her master's degree from New York's School of Visual Arts, and then she took off. She's had exhibitions in the most hallowed halls of art, like the Venice Bieniale, the Whitney Biennial, and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
But her first love is art in public places, especially in New York.
"I did a piece for the 96th Street subway station," Sze said. "You're sort of thinking about where you're gonna go, and there's something there that makes you think, that stops you for just a second, that you move around, or through, or under."
In 2012, you'd have seen this sculpture when taking a walk along Manhattan's High Line:
And starting next month, her latest piece, "Fallen Sky," will be take up permanent residence at the Storm King sculpture gallery in New York's Hudson Valley.
Pogue asked, "When you are asked to create a public piece of art, are there different mental restrictions in terms of likability, accessibility?"
"I don't need people to love the work," she replied. "I mean, hating a work can also, you know, it can be valid. I don't want people to walk by like it's a fire hydrant. I want people to think, to question, to engage in their own opinion. That's what a good artwork does. It doesn't please."
Her 96th Street subway proposal certainly didn't please everyone. There were petitions not to build it. Sze said, "Any time you do public art, there's a question, and it's a valid question: 'Why are we spending money on this and not, you know, improving the conditions of public schools in New York?' It's an entirely valid question. My argument for it is that, for me, art is sustenance. When you are suffering, art can save your life. I believe that."
With so few people flying during the pandemic, Sze's sculpture at LaGuardia has been something of a hidden treasure. But as the pandemic winds down, that will change.
Pogue asked, "As you look back over the arc of your career, is this the pinnacle so far?"
"As an artist, you always want the last piece you made to be the pinnacle. But you would never want it to be THE pinnacle, right?" she replied.
"I mean, this is probably the one that the most people will see, would you say?"
"That was one of the reasons why I was really excited about it as a commission," said Sze, "because people from all over the world, you know, first-time visitors, repeat visitors [will see it]. For me to have this be a sort of entryway sculpture to the city that I love was really special."
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Story produced by Julie Kracov. Editor: Emanuele Secci.
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