Richard Serra obituary


Richard Serra, who has died aged 85, was a outstanding cultural determine – a sculptor who belonged to the era of American minimalists, was related to course of artwork and made experimental movies, but evoked one thing of an earlier, extra heroic age. The critic Robert Hughes described him as “the final summary expressionist”.

Though this assertion stretches the purpose, Serra’s curiosity within the processes of sculpture led him to some extravagant gestural acts that belie the severity of his grand public commissions. Weight and Measure, made within the early Nineties for what’s now Tate Britain, exemplified his austere aspect, with its large metal varieties designed to counter the constructing’s overbearing classicism. Nevertheless, a few of his different works, such because the twisting, “torqued” buildings put in on the Guggenheim in Bilbao in 2005, are positively baroque.

Curled round an present sculpture, Snake, that was commissioned for the museum’s opening in 1997, these metal works, dominated by ellipses and spirals, articulate areas by which the gallery customer can wander. They’re monumental sufficient to tackle Frank Gehry’s grandiose structure, however, with their patinated surfaces and curved varieties, even have an intimate, sensual high quality. Above all, Serra’s sculptures create a outstanding interplay with the general public and a robust expertise of gradual discovery – therefore the set up’s title, The Matter of Time.

His works have proved fashionable with curators, however aren’t confined to museums. They’ve appeared in settings as numerous because the Tuileries backyard in Paris, the Federal Plaza in New York, and the Qatari desert, attracting responses from intense admiration to a public inquiry. Considered one of his sculptures, Fulcrum, was put up in 1987 at Broadgate exterior Liverpool Road station in London. It manages to mix monumentality with fragility, fabricated from weathered metal plates that seem to help one another precariously.

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East-West/West-East within the Brouq nature reserve, Qatar. {Photograph}: Nathan Denette/AP

He was born in San Francisco right into a household that offered a basis for his later profession as a sculptor in steel. His father, Tony, who was from Majorca, was a pipe-fitter in a naval shipyard. His mom, Gladys (nee Fineberg), who was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Odessa, used to introduce her son as “Richard, the artist” and was, later, touchingly enthusiastic when he started to make his means in New York. Serra himself laboured in metal mills throughout his time as a pupil and subsequently, in 1979, made a compelling movie, Steelmill/Stahlwerk, about German staff within the business.

Serra started his research in 1957 on the College of California in Berkeley, graduating from the establishment’s Santa Barbara campus with a level in English literature. He adopted this in 1961 with a three-year course in portray at Yale College, New Haven – a interval by which he additionally labored as a instructing assistant and as a proof-reader for Joseph Albers’s guide Interplay of Colour (1963). At Yale he encountered such luminaries as Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Advert Reinhardt and Frank Stella, earlier than successful a fellowship that took him to Europe in 1964.

In Paris, Serra was profoundly impressed by the sculpture of Constantin Brâncuși, however in Florence the next 12 months he continued to color, producing colored grids in timed circumstances managed by a stopwatch. It was solely together with his first exhibition, on the Galleria La Salita in Rome in 1966, that he made a definitive transfer away from portray, filling cages with reside and stuffed animals.

After shifting to New York in the identical 12 months, Serra initially survived by setting himself up as a furnishings remover, collectively together with his mates, the composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Serra’s inventive growth right now was fast, shifting from experiments with rubber, fibreglass and neon tubing to the steel sculpture for which he turned famend. He quickly started his long-term affiliation with the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, in whose Warehouse annex he was photographed in 1969 throwing molten lead on the wall with a ladle.

In the identical 12 months Serra refined this process by splashing the steel in opposition to a small metal plate caught into the nook of Jasper Johns’s studio. The “castings” produced when the lead cooled down had been tough, expressive varieties, however this mission additionally impressed Serra to create extra impersonal items, by which steel sheets had been wedged into the angles of rooms, leaned in opposition to one another or pinned to the wall by lead pipes. His emphasis on goal phenomena – mass, gravity and different bodily forces – can be seen in his outstanding experimental movies.

In Hand Catching Lead (1968), the hand is in reality the artist’s however it’s proven disembodied, attempting to know moderately than forged items of falling lead, which it drops or misses altogether. The repetition of this essentially pointless act offers the movie a serial high quality, akin to the celluloid course of itself.

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Fulcrum, 1987, at Broadgate, Liverpool Road station, London. {Photograph}: Mike Kemp/Corbis/Getty Photos

Serra’s engagement with the innovative additionally led him to work with the land artists Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt. In 1970 he assisted them with Spiral Jetty on the Nice Salt Lake in Utah and, after Smithson’s loss of life in 1973, Serra helped to finish Amarillo Ramp in a synthetic lake in Texas. His personal site-specific sculptures included Spin Out: For Bob Smithson (1972-73), within the park-like environment of the Kröller-Müller Museum at Otterlo within the Netherlands. Right here the three converging metal plates interacted with one another and their surroundings, exemplifying Serra’s goal that “your complete house turns into a manifestation of sculpture”.

The Nineteen Seventies was a troublesome decade in Serra’s life. In 1971 a employee was killed in an accident in the course of the set up of considered one of Serra’s sculptures exterior the Walker Artwork Heart in Minneapolis. His five-year marriage to the artist Nancy Graves resulted in 1970, and his mom’s suicide in 1977 was adopted two years later by the loss of life of his father. Nevertheless, in that decade he additionally met his future spouse, the artwork historian Clara Weyergraf, with whom he collaborated on Steelmill/Stahlwerk. Clara was additionally to play a significant position in shaping his sculpture, in addition to giving her identify to Clara-Clara, a strong, curvilinear work that was put in within the Tuileries backyard in 1983. The historical past of this piece exemplifies Serra’s issues in making site-specific artwork, because it was initially meant to function in a present on the Pompidou Centre, however at a late stage was deemed to be too heavy.

Clara-Clara’s travails had been minor compared to the controversies surrounding Tilted Arc, a sculpture 36 metres lengthy, arrange on the Federal Plaza in Manhattan in 1981. Condemned for being intrusive, a magnet for graffiti artists and even a safety danger, it was ultimately eliminated in 1989, 4 years after a public listening to by which a majority of witnesses had advocated its preservation.

Regardless of this setback, Serra’s profession continued to flourish. He had two retrospectives, in 1986 and 2007, on the Museum of Fashionable Artwork in New York, which additionally devoted a everlasting room to his monumental work Equal (2015), in addition to main exhibitions at residence and overseas. He confirmed often together with his gallery, Gagosian, in London, New York and Paris, most lately in 2021.

In 2001 he obtained a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement on the Venice Biennale, in 2015 the Légion d’honneur in France and, three years later, the J Paul Getty Medal.

Throughout his latter years, Serra turned closely concerned with public tasks in Qatar, above all of the 4 metal plates, rising to over 14 metres and spanning greater than a kilometre, erected west of Doha in 2014. Referred to as East-West/West-East, the work engages spectacularly with its environment, the gypsum plateaux of the Brouq nature reserve within the Dukhan desert. Serra himself described it as “essentially the most fulfilling factor I’ve ever accomplished”.

He’s survived by Clara.


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