Richard Serra : Master of the tectonic nature of sculpture
Richard Serra
Master of the tectonic nature of sculpture
Susan Cross + Tracey Bashkoff, December 31, 2007
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


One of the preeminent sculptors of the 20th century, Richard Serra has long been acclaimed for his challenging and innovative work, which emphasizes the process of its fabrication, the characteristics of its materials, and an engagement with the viewer and site. As an emerging artist in the early 1960s, Serra helped change the nature of artistic production. He and the Minimalist artists of his generation turned to unconventional, industrial materials and began to accentuate the physical properties of their work. Relieved of its symbolic role, freed from the traditional pedestal or base, and introduced into the real space of the viewer, sculpture took on a new relationship to the spectator, whose phenomenological experience of an object became crucial to its meaning. Viewers were encouraged to move around - and sometimes on, in, and through - the work and encounter it from multiple perspectives.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Over the years Serra has expounded further on this spatial field between subject and object. For the past two decades Serra has focused primarily on large-scale, site-specific works that create dialogues with particular architectural, urban, or landscape settings and in so doing redefine that space and the viewer's perception of it. The current work installed at the Museum, is the artist's most complete rumination on the physicality of space and the nature of sculpture.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Born in San Francisco in 1939, Serra earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California in Santa Barbara, then a Master of Fine Art's degree from Yale University in 1964. He spent the following two years studying in Paris and Italy before settling in New York in 1966. In 1967 and 1968 the artist developed a list of infinitives, such as “to scatter,” “to roll,” “to prop,” “to cut,” and “to bend,” which describe many of the processes the artist would employ throughout his career, either using his own hands or industrial methods of fabrication. Early on, Serra made works that assigned primary significance to process. Exploiting unusual materials such as rubber, which he hung in strips on gallery walls, and molten lead, which he famously hurled into the angle between wall and floor, Serra placed particular emphasis on the process by which materials themselves are formed, as well as the way they react to external conditions such as gravity or temperature.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Finding that these early works maintained too much of a traditional pictorial figure-ground relationship with the ground or wall, Serra began to move in a different direction in 1969. With his now-iconic One-Ton Prop (House of Cards) , which consists of four lead plates kept vertical by the force of their own weight as they lean against one another, Serra began to focus on the tectonic nature of sculpture. As with the process works, the nature of its construction remained visible. In a series of prop pieces, Serra made manifest the principles of balance and gravity and their elemental role in sculptural production. Given both the pliable nature of lead and its great weight, however, these works are charged with tension; the apparent instability of the elements produce a conflict between a fear of the collapse of the piece and comprehension of the laws of physics.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Since 1970 Serra has worked predominantly in steel, a material commonly associated with architecture and engineering, disciplines the artist has often looked to for an understanding of the origins of sculpture. With the introduction of steel as a medium, the scale of his works increased dramatically. They could no longer be considered discrete objects; their meaning and constitution could not be separated from their environment or be discerned by the viewer without a peripatetic examination. This interest in a perceptual experience, contingent on movement through space and time and, in Serra's words, on “memory and anticipation,” was kindled by the artist's introduction to the Zen gardens of Kyoto during a six-week visit to Japan in 1970: In the Zen garden, there is no fixed view. The influence of the trip manifested itself in many subsequent works, including the ones presented here, whose exterior views give no clue to interior form.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Serra's ongoing series of Torqued Ellipses (1996 -), two of which are included here, remains tied to the artistic vocabulary Serra has developed over the past 30 years, but also reflects a significant departure. While the physicality of space has long been a concern for the artist, in these works space has become his material. The design of the pieces, which the artist calls “vessels,” is based on two perfect and identical ellipses that overlap at an angle. The curved planes of steel lean in and out in a continuum, creating a form not seen before in architecture or sculpture.

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


The matter of time enables the spectator to perceive the evolution of the artist's sculpted forms, from his relatively simple double ellipse to the more complex spiral. The final two works in this evolution are built from sections of toruses and spheres to create environments with differing effects on the viewer's movement and perception. Shifting in unexpected ways as viewers walk in and around them, these sculptures create a dizzying, unforgettable sensation of space in motion.



Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Serra's matter of time is organized so that as soon as visitors enter the gallery, they enter the space of the sculpture: The entirety of the room is part of the sculptural field. As with his other multipart sculptures, the artist purposefully organizes the works to move the viewer through them and their surrounding space and to enhance the visual impact of their physicality, the uncertainties of material, and the perceptual fragmentation of the works. The gallery's balcony allows the viewer to overlook the entire field of the gallery, bringing clarity to the overall plan and placement of the sculptures; yet as the artist points out, “their elevation is always partially masked.”

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


The layout of works in the gallery, progressing from simple to complex forms, create passages of space that are distinctly different - narrow and wide, compressed and elongated, tight and open, modest and towering - and always unanticipated. There is also the progression of time. There is the chronological time it takes to walk through and view The Matter of Time , between the beginning and end of the visit. And there is the experential time, the fragments of visual and physical memory that linger and recombine and replay. For the artist, the summation of the work is not solely in how it represents his oeuvre, but how it might color experience and engender change:

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


“I just don't want the installation to be seen as simply the aesthetic production of an artist. If it becomes a gathering place for people who are interested in different ideas, and sculpture is the experience that allows them to come together, great. I'd like the installation to be an open, public space where anyone can go -particularly younger people. But unless the work is inventive formally, it cannot change anything. It has to be inventive formally to change one's perception, emotions, and experience.”

Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA


Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA
Richard Serra_Sculpture: Forty Years
_New York_USA