Richard Serra has a story he likes to tell about a formative moment in his life as an artist when, traveling around Europe while on a Fulbright, he encountered Las Meninas for the first time.
His experience at the Prado was a revelation, he said, because he felt Velazquez had somehow managed to make him feel “implicated in the space of the painting,” something the fledgling painter simply could not imagine accomplishing with his own wall-based work. Serra was obviously not the first viewer to be wowed and confounded by Velasquez’s masterpiece — by the “subtle system of feints,” as Foucault described it, that produces the work’s “pure reciprocity” — but for the young Californian, it was a true watershed moment: When he got back to Florence, he chucked the contents of his studio into the Arno and decided to become a sculptor.
-“Richard Serra.” Jeffrey Kastner, Artforum, Summer 2013
Fifteen years ago, when we were talking about why a modest, imprecise abstraction by Kazimir Malevich might be more convincing than a big, flawless Ellsworth Kelly, the sculptor Richard Serra (with whom I’m acquainted, but don’t know well) said something about the virtues of “the crudity of initial effort.” The phrase stuck with me, and I quote it often (with attribution). The crudity of Mr. Serra’s own early effort was more a radical reformism that aimed at rescuing abstract sculpture from Minimalism’s pseudo-matter-of-factness: However simple and straightforward its boxy forms, Minimalist sculpture hid the traces of its making– something that Mr. Serra regarded as artistically disingenuous.
More than 40 years after the corrective heat of Mr. Serra’s early work began to cool– we’ve since seen everything, from holes in the ground to sounds in a room to words written on a wall, pass as “sculpture”– the questions are: How does it look as art? Does it contain its own kind of beauty? The answers are: Very good (even great), and yes.
-Peter Plagens, The Wall Street Journal, May 2013
The interesting thing is that you don’t know, as you move on, how your early work is going to inform your later work.
Once you get involved with space and context, then you get involved with movement and time. Then your whole relationship with subject to object changes. Once you start getting into context, you become the subject of the space you are in. Your own experience of the work kicks it off. The content is not steel or whatever. The content is you in that space as you navigate it.
-Richard Serra, interview with Andy Battaglia, Wall Street Journal, 2013
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has acquired Richard Serra’s Equal (2015), a sculpture made of eight blocks of steel that is currently on view at David Zwirner’s West 20th Street location in Chelsea. Displayed in four pairs, with one block precariously placed on top of the other, the steel cubes weigh 40 tons each.
Philip Glass and the violinist Tim Fain will be performing inside the sculpture at David Zwirner on June 27. The charity concert benefits House with Heart, a nonprofit that provides homes for abandoned children. The concert is also a weird full-circle event for Glass, who was Serra’s assistant between 1971 and 1974.
–ArtNews, Alex Greenberger, June 2015