Known for his for his large scale, site-specific steel sculptures, Richard Serra is an influential American Minimalist, based in New York and Nova Scotia. The Venice Golden-lion-winning artist's extensive career is often discussed in relation to the development of contemporary public art and 20th-century minimalist sculpture.Read More
Working towards a BA in English literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Richard Serra developed an early interest in industrial materials while working in steel mills.
Studying for a BFA and MFA at Yale from 1961 to 1964, he came under the influence of Philip Guston, Josef Albers, and Morton Feldman, and interacted with other ground-breaking artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, and Frank Stella. This—and two consecutive trips to Europe in 1965 and 1966—influenced the Minimalist nature of his work.
Richard Serra's first sculptures from the mid-1960s were made of rubber, fibreglass, and other non-traditional materials. The earliest works using the industrial metals Serra is known for came in the form of the process-based series 'Splash' (1968–1970). For this, the artist hurled molten lead at the points in gallery spaces where the walls met the floors, which cooled to create new forms. Serra's performance of this work during his exhibition at the Leo Castelli Warehouse in 1969 marked his official debut in the New York art scene.
Richard Serra's iconic monumental Minimalist constructions, typically comprised of self-supporting, shaped and angled corten steel plates, challenge sculptural conventions of scale, material, and subject matter, as well as viewers' perceptions of gravity, bodily alignment, and planar space.
Serra's 'Prop' pieces in the late 1960s, in which rolls of lead and sheets of other metals were arranged in configurations held together only by gravity, were precursors to the increasingly large-scale public work that developed when in the 1970s he turned his attention outdoors.
Moving out of the gallery space Serra began creating monumental sculptures in the form of long, curving, horizontal or tall, and seemingly precarious (but partially buried) continuous steel sheets. Serra's works from the 1970s onward responded to, but jarringly altered, the landscapes and urban public places in which they were installed.
In the 1980s, as Serra's large-scale works were being taken to new heights and becoming commonplace across Europe, he encountered controversy in the United States with the installation of Tilted Arc (1981), a 3.7-metre-high, rusted corten steel arc crossing New York's Foley Federal Plaza. Disputes between the civic authorities, the public, and the artist resulted in its dismantlement in 1989, and carried on after.
Since the early 1970s Richard Serra has also produced dark drawings made with black paintstick, ink and paint on paper and canvas, as well as prints. These two-dimensional works evoke the same approach to time, process and materiality that define his sculpture.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Serra also made experimental films and videos. An early example is the self-explanatory 16mm, black-and-white film, Hand Catching Lead (1968), most of these films involved carrying out short bursts of manual tasks or actions within a limited time frame.
Since the early 1990s, Serra's sculpture has taken new forms such as the open-but-enveloping 'Torqued Ellipse', and solid circular forged steel 'Rounds'. Serra also made several 'Rounds' prints, in a hands on process that produced textured black-hole like circles on paper. Richard Serra's Transmitter (2020), while differing from the exact Torqued Ellipse shape, follows the same semi-closed enveloping approach to space.
Serra continues to show his drawings and monumental sculptural installations in galleries, sculpture parks and public spaces around the world.
Over the course of his more than five decade career, Richard Serra has been comissioned to produce numerous artworks for public spaces. His monumental steel constructions can be found in public locations across the globe from France to New Zealand.
Alongside the infamous Tilted Arc, other examples that generated less controversy include the towering Fulcrum (1987), near Liverpool Street station in London; Wake (2003), with its five pairs of closed-form S-shapes in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park, the colossal 180-tonne Snake (1997) permanently installed at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the 80-foot 7 (2011) for the Museum of Islamic Art Park, in Doha.
Richard Serra has received many accolades and medals for his art, including the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2001 Venice Biennale, a knighthood in the National Order of the Legion of Honour in France (2015), and the J. Paul Getty Medal (2018).
Richard Serra has been the subject of solo exhibitions and group exhibitions in galleries and institutions internationally.
Richard Serra solo exhibitions include: Transmitter, Gagosian, Paris (2021); Richard Serra: Props, Films, Early Works, Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden, Germany (2017); Richard Serra, Qatar Museum Authority, Doha, Qatar (2014); Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2011); Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (2007); Richard Serra, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (1999); Richard Serra: Weight and Measure, Tate Gallery, London (1992); Richard Serra/sculpture, MoMA, New York (1986); Richard Serra: Tekeningen/Drawings 1971-1977, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1977).
Richard Serra Group Exhibitions include: Knotted, Torn, Scattered: Sculpture after Abstract Expressionism, Guggenheim Museum, New York (2021); Beauty is a rare thing: Art in balance from Buchheister to Serra, Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (2017); Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2012); Mille et Tre, Musée du Louvre, Paris (2009); The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000, Part II, 1950-2000, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1999); Transformations in Sculpture: Four Decades of American and European Art, Guggenheim, New York (1985); Color As Language, Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota (1974); Anti-Form, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1969).
Several museums—from the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art also permanently exhibit Serra's large-scale sculptures. Gagosian, which has represented the artist for 30 years, has chosen gallery spaces with Serra's preferred scale in mind.
Richard Serra's Instagram can be found here.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022