Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



Degree Granting Department

Art and Art History

Major Professor

Allison Moore, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Riccardo Marchi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Noelle Mason, MFA


Contemporary Art, embodied perception, installation, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, scientific models, Venice Biennale


In 2013, the 55th Venice Biennale, the world's oldest bi-annual international contemporary art exhibition, opened under the title The Encyclopedic Palace, organized by Italian curator Massimiliano Gioni. The international exhibition section is always flanked by an amalgamation of distinct national spaces, a dual exhibition model that has been the hallmark of the Biennale since 1998. In 2013, the United States pavilion was devoted to American artist Sarah Sze's work Triple Point and her signature arrangement of everyday objects and materials, such as Q-tips, water bottles, painter's tape, and desk lamps. The title of Sze's multi-room installation, culled from earlier works as well as created from new materials, refers to the thermodynamic equilibrium of any given substance--specifically, a "triple point" is the temperature and pressure at which a substance is solid, liquid and gas at the same time. The quasi-scientific installations provide constantly shifting viewpoints as the viewer circumnavigates the interconnected spaces of the U.S. pavilion, moving amid, around, and through the work, but also focusing on different individual objects before pulling back to catch glimpses of the work as a whole.

In this thesis, I apply a phenomenological analysis to Triple Point in order to make sense of its scientific references in conjunction with its complex form. I view Triple Point as a culmination of the ideas that Sze has sustained and explored over the course of her career--such as the investigation of everyday objects in relation to site, space, and viewer--that situates the viewer in an experience caught between empirical order and individual perception. To examine Triple Point using the idea of "embodied perception," I formally analyze the work in relation to its scientific meanings as suggested by its titles of individual works--Gleaner, Planetarium, Eclipse, Scale, Orrery, Pendulum, Observatory, and Compass. I then trace the discourse surrounding phenomenology and the rise of installation art through the writings of art historians Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, and Claire Bishop, before finally situating French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology as an apt theory for analyzing this work. In embracing both the scientific objectivity implied by Sze's installations without sacrificing the import of physical perception, I contend that Triple Point invites the viewer to look at--but also beyond--the array of familiar objects, emphasizing a shifting sense of the work that is never exhaustively fixed. Thus, Triple Point does not expose the classic dichotomies between art and science, natural and manufactured, image and object, but instead opens up the moment of their confluence--the paradoxical achievement of an embodied perception as described by Merleau-Ponty. Understood phenomenologically, Triple Point invites viewers to get caught-up in the dynamic experience of "between-ness" invoked by the installation's title and to engage with their everyday experiences of contemporary life in a new way.