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Affixed to the walls of the 96th Street Subway station, contemporary artist Sarah Sze’s Blueprint for a Landscape (2016) boasts a composition of nearly 4,300 handcrafted tiles illustrating scenes of everyday objects—falling sheets of paper, towers of scaffolding, and dynamic lines. Alongside other works commissioned for the Second Avenue Subway, Sze’s striking exhibit was praised by critics for its eye-catching, dichromatic design, its ability to embody motion in two-dimensional space, and its references to Sze’s critically acclaimed practice. Such an emphasis on the work’s formal qualities fails to address the cultural and socioeconomic implications of Blueprint for a Landscape. These facets of the installation, alongside the artist’s intersectional identity and the work’s geo-cultural context, acquire deeper meaning when analyzed through a Marxist framework.
As a result, the remarkable impact of Sarah Sze’s Blueprint for a Landscape lies not in its quality and scale. Rather, Blueprint for a Landscape becomes Sze’s manifesto for economic reform. By dissecting the iconography and formal elements of Blueprint for a Landscape through Marxist theory, I reveal the work’s subliminal message: a call to action against wealth inequality. Sze delivers a seemingly apolitical work to her patrons and the city’s elite, the contemporary bourgeoisie. Yet, by amplifying the voices of the proletariat in her work, the artist takes on this “double agent” identity. Sze’s commodification of everyday objects and references to “blueprints” act in solidarity with primary occupants of the subway—the working class—and in denial of the conventions of class, wealth, and status.
Varghese, Mekha, "Double Agent Sarah Sze" (2021). Art and Art History Presentations. 3.
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