Art Dictionary

Richard Serra

Biography

Richard Serra (* 1939 in San Francisco) studied fine arts at Yale University in New Haven. His first solo show in 1969, at Leo Castelli's gallery in New York was followed by many sculpture shows, landscape projects, and site-specific installations around the world. Serra's works can be found in many important museums. He has participated in the documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennial, among others, and a highlight of his career was the retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2007. Serra lives in New York.

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Book related to this subject

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra
A Handbook of Possibilities

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2821-8
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At the Edge of the Possible

»Basically, I’d like to make sculptures that represent a new kind of experiences, open up possibilities for sculpture that didn’t exist before.« (Richard Serra)

With his provocative, innovative works, Richard Serra is one of the outstanding sculptors of our time. His large sculptures have exploded limitations and revolutionized contemporary sculpture.

Like the minimalists of his generation, Serra at first experimented with industrial materials such as rubber and lead in his early works. In the late 1960s he began developing his own grammar based on the reduction of form, the active reference to space, and central themes of gravity and balance. He started working with Corten steel, whose surface rusts, while his sculptures became physically accessible. The size of his works has to do with their relationship to people. It is not primarily about the sculpture’s form, says Serra, but about the observer: “I’m interested in his subjective attitude toward the sculpture.” Viewers change their standpoints and thus alter their perspectives, as well. Their motion is part of the sculpture. Time is a crucial factor. The question of how bodies react to the spaces around them, as well as to the spaces they help to create, also interests Serra, as do the concepts of “inside” and “outside” or “full” and “empty” space. Besides their relationship to the observer, Serra’s site-specific works also create important relationships to their architectural, urban, or rural surroundings.

Serra became known for works such as Terminal, his piece shown at the documenta in 1977; it is a group of geometric elements that create their own environment in the (urban) landscape. Due to its huge proportions and forms, his series Torqued Ellipses (1996-99), made of massive curves and arcs, challenged Serra to work on the edge of the possible. Another highlight of his oeuvre is the installation, The Matter of Time (2005), comprised of seven monumental steel sculptures created for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. For the 2008 Monumenta at the Grand Palais in Paris, Serra created the installationPromenade.

Again and again, Serra’s monumental sculptures trigger controversy. For instance, in 1989 New York’s city administration had his object Tilted Arcdemolished, due to the protests. In 1998, even though it had already been approved, Serra withdrew his design for the Holocaust monument in Berlin, because of the conflicts it engendered.

Even in the early 1960s Serra had begun working with film and video, which were new media in art at the time. Space, time, perspective, sculpture, and material also captured his interest here, as well. The sculptor has been drawing since his student days, and in the early 1970s, prints became part of his expressive repertoire. In both cases, Serra sounded the depths of the relationships between form and surface, mass and weight, in fundamental ways, wresting the seemingly impossible from each type of material and technique.

May 16, 2011 Monika Wolz

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