Richard Serra Is Carrying the Weight of the World

The 80-year-old artist, unlike his modernist forebears, counts pounds. He calls one coming exhibition his “heaviest show ever.”

Comments: 70

  1. Like Mr Serra, I grew up in the Sunset district of San Francisco, attended his alma mater Abraham Lincoln High School, and by a twist of fate, also matriculated from UCSB. There the similarities end! What a fine, in-depth article about Mr Serras work, history, and thought process.

  2. @Ron . Also a twist of fate. I became a New Yorker writer under a psedonym all these years. Peter Schjeldahl.

  3. Photos cannot begin to convey the art of Richard Serra. Walking around and through his installation at the Guggenheim in Bilbao was as profound an experience as I have ever had in a museum or in nature.

  4. @Dee I've seen that exhibit and it's incredible. I also love his work at DIA Beacon. Wandering through the spiraling canyons of his metal sculptures is a sensory experience that plays on perceptions of light, space and texture.

  5. @Dee I was lucky enough to be able to go to Bilbao and experience his ribbons. I am sorry so many people feel the need to be snarky and snobbish about his work. Art is experience and obviously many of us 'got' the experience. I had the same feeling you did and I've never forgotten it. Magical.

  6. Inspirational and touching deep into soul. I cannot wait to visit his new exhibitions!

  7. “It sounds like you are talking about steak” That is a brilliant response! Serra is brilliant! I’ve loved him since childhood when I was first introduced to his work. Serra’s art may not necessarily be for the investor-diamonds-and-wine art gallery crowd, and it may be misunderstood by those who prefer to visit museums, but his art can and should be enjoyed by all of us. I love that some people have an initial visceral reaction to his work. I just wish they could open their minds a bit and “see” life from a different perspective. Viewing Serra’s work is an experiential, sensorial and intellectual activity — you touch the Cor-ten steel, feel the textures and subtle hues. You experience walking through and around it, listening to how ambient noise changes as you walk, seeing how light changes and creates moving shadows, viewing the cityscape in frames by seeing “through” the work... how it changes our perception of everything around and inside of the space his work inhabits. It takes time to get to know his work... Serra is a national treasure!

  8. I respect and enjoy a lot of Mr. Serra's work. However, as a professional blacksmith, I can say that all the surface texture and color is simply the result of putting a piece of steel in the forge. I suppose people who are not around this type of elemental process can find a lot of beauty in the surface, which is called 'scale'. But for me, this crosses a line into a place where anybody could do this. Arranging round shapes in the space is nice, but to me there is not much work in it. His torqued eclipses and some other pieces, on the other hand, show how great a sculptor Mr. Serra truly is.

  9. @RAB Not to mention, this: "“How would you sign a molten block?” Serra doesn't seem to even understand the difference between casting and forging in that statement. Or that hot metal can be carved or stamped, or welded after cooling to add a signature as any blacksmith, or skilled metal sculptor, such as Eduardo Chillida could have told him. For me, Serra doesn't fully appreciate his medium. I think he just enjoys the heaviness and imposing nature of masses of steel and is not as interested in many of it's characteristics and possibilities.

  10. @Poppa Gander . i once had a casting and forging with a young Sicilan in Sardenia.

  11. Ah Richard Serra, dull, heavy and dead. Though I do like rust! I have been a metal artist for 3 decades. Weight would not be the most important feature I would use to describe it. Serra's work will at least be easy to melt down and recycle later on, I'll give it that.

  12. That's great. In a day an age where we're spending too much energy moving things from A to B, burning fossil fuels... We have this guy, making sure we also move immensely heavy objects for... absolutely no reason. Void of artistic merit, in my unimportant opinion...

  13. As an architect, I am impressed by the spatial transformations, materiality and scale of Mr. Serra's magnificent creations. Can anyone explain why his work is not represented in The Whitney Museum of American Art?

  14. @In awe No.

  15. @In awe - I have walked into the Vortex 2002 steel sculpture at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on a splendid sunny day and was transported and transfigured by the within versus the without. I love the torqued ellipses at the DIA Museum in Beacon, NY. These steel skins are beautifully colorful on the outside and mysterious wombs that mystify you inside and you feel a rebirth from light and lightness of being. I think many of Serra's sculptures are, despite the "terrifying" weightiness spatial forms of suspended gravity and weight. I agree that the article's title ("Richard Serra Is Carrying the Weight of the World") is an insult to our appreciation of Serra's art. That he is a stubborn builder of huge forms is part of his being enamored by ships and other gigantic industrial forms. His artistic gift is the metamorphosis of heavy metal spaces into mysteries of transcendental lightness, both as the unweightiness of form and material and the magic interplay of space and (natural) light in the unweightiness of huge bodies. I don't think of him as privileged white male and don't throw him on the garbage heap of art history.

  16. Funny, although I’ve seen and experienced many of Mr. Serra’s large architectural installations, and find them very beautiful, it’s actually his “lightest” work that has moved me most. I speak of his notebooks and drawings, which were included in an exhibition at the Met a number of years ago. Amazing little books full of energy, line, idea! He’s an incredibly gifted artist.

  17. I was fortunate to tour Gemini Gel in L.A. a few years ago and see the making of Serra's works on paper in process. The shop floor looked similar to the lead throw photo in this article only the splatter was black. The smell was beautifully toxic. So I'll add Mr. Serra's "Verb List" - to smell.

  18. There are many colors in the oxidation of the steel that Serra uses.

  19. Can we stop with titles like this, please. The great master is also known for sculpture that falls apart and down, so yes, he should be doing the math. However, enough with the implicit and explicit allusions to old white men being these great titans. It's these kinds of unwarranted cultural cues for purportedly great men of anything--the arts, sports, business--that has led us to the current cliff's edge at which we as a species/planet so frighteningly find ourselves. He's an artist who had all the advantages of race and gender, who is getting another big opportunity to strut his stuff. #yawn

  20. @pmf So we should minimize his achievements on account of his race? I feel like this is an unhelpful way to look at art.

  21. @John Schultz i didn't say that...quite the opposite. you'll maybe get it next time around. best of luck.

  22. @pmf He is my favorite sculptor, but I did not notice about his race until your comment. btw, I'm a minority.

  23. leonardo he ain't.

  24. @bill zorn Thank you, I so agree

  25. Recount his temper tantrum when Ingrid Sischy confronted him at an opening one time. Good memories!

  26. Nice article. Someone should tell the author the SF MOMA sculpture has been replaced with an interesting interactive video.

  27. Confronted once by a piece of Serra's work, my dad and I came up with our 2 criteria test to decide if something is art. 1) Does it serve a useful purpose? 2) Is it in the way? If both answers are no, it's art. By this test, Serra's work in a gallery is art, but Tilted Arc was not art. It was "in the way."

  28. @DCW I enjoyed your comment and rationale, although not completely agreed to it :-) Art can be functional, but Tilted Arc was placed in non-functional place.

  29. By the way, have you ever seen “The Way” by Trova?

  30. Art can be many things — individually and all at once. Art is often meant to be “in the way.”

  31. I longer longer relate to today's modern art. I now find it void of emotional content and self indulgent to the extreme.

  32. For you may I recommend exploring the oeuvre of Thomas Kincaid. You should enjoy that.

  33. The reasons for the revolt against Tilted Arc were practical ones. It hogged Federal Plaza which is an open space enjoyed by the public — benches, a fountain, events — and it impeded people who had to get to work. Goodness knows urban landscapes don't have enough big steel objects. A common thread links Mr. Serra's Brobdingnagian steel pieces. They get in the way.

  34. Art should get in the way — disrupt the status quo, change our mundane daily existence!

  35. THE TRANSFIGURING LIGHTNESS OF BEING viewing and walking into one of Richard Serra's torqued sculptures! I have walked into the Vortex 2002 steel sculpture at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on a splendid sunny day and was transported and transfigured by the within versus the without. I love the torqued ellipses at the DIA Museum in Beacon, NY. These steel skins are beautifully colorful on the outside and mysterious wombs that mystify you inside and you feel a rebirth from light and lightness of being. I think many of Serra's sculptures are, despite the "terrifying" weightiness spatial forms of suspended gravity and weight. I agree that the article's title ("Richard Serra Is Carrying the Weight of the World") is an insult to our appreciation of Serra's art. That he is a stubborn builder of huge forms is part of his being enamored by ships and other gigantic industrial forms. His artistic gift is the metamorphosis of heavy metal spaces into mysteries of transcendental lightness, both as the unweightiness of form and material and the magic interplay of space and (natural) light in the unweightiness of huge bodies. I don't think of him as privileged white male and don't throw him on the garbage heap of art history.

  36. Saw this installation last night through an open door as I walked by. Looks beautiful.

  37. I am a huge fan, my starting point was Tilted Arc, which I viewed negatively, thanks to all the bad press and defacing, it was such a big deal back then. I always thought of Serra as a macho narcissist with nothing to tell me, until experiencing his show at MOMA! I still carry the feeling, the experience of walking those pieces all these years later. Seeing them at the Beacon Dia is not quite the same, but still an worth a visit. I do remember just before they removed Tilted Arc a friend was photographing it. A man approached and demanded to know why the photos, when my friend explained his sadness about the removal, Serra introduced himself!

  38. As a woman who is about half Mr. Serra's age and not 100% white, I feel I'm not supposed to love his work, but I do. I find it beautiful, moving, and yes, tender at times. Like heavy metal the music it's not for everyone, but it has no less potential for beauty than any other art form. Thank you for this profile.

  39. @Flora Paradox and harmony in one!

  40. @Flora Why feel that you're limited in what you like or not by who you are? Art is art, music is music. As Duke Ellington said, there are only 2 kinds of music: Good and the other kind. The same applies to art.

  41. @Flora I do not understand your personal judgements about what you should and shouldn't like because of your age and ethnicity.

  42. I've seen his drawings in person and they're sublime.

  43. Serra's work is touching me on such a subliminal level. Walking through his sculptures + experiencing different shapes and spaces opening up gives me a feeling of calm and serenity. An anecdote from 20 years ago when a staff member had arranged a class trip to the gallery for our 6 or 7 year-olds: He was most gracious and patient, watching kids draw and telling a hesitant child not to fear 'wrong' lines since there was no such thing.

  44. “Art” strikes different people in different ways. That’s why its definition has been endlessly debated. A forged cylinder is spoken of in exalted, almost poetic words. I’m baffled. My reaction is extremely visceral — negatively. I feel like I’m being conned. But if the artist has found a way to positively move others, that’s great. I just need to heed a lesson I long ago learned: I simply shouldn’t read articles about this sort of abstract art.

  45. Well, judging by these comments and historical controversy surrounding Serra’s work, I’d say he is the very definition of artist, and his work is the reason for art!

  46. When heavy industry infests individual artistic creation it becomes a "tilted art" or more to the point, an inflation of an already inflated ego far short of even coming close to the Crazy Horse colossal statue.

  47. I recently saw his massive sculpture at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. As I wandered through the steel canyons, I wondered, "Is this his art or that of the metal workers who forged and formed the pieces and created the interesting surfaces?" This isn't the same as a sculptor who creates a statue that someone else casts into bronze. Whether one likes the end result or not, can Serra claim it as his art or should the metal workers have at least equal billing?

  48. @Phyllis I understand what you are getting at. But going all the way back to the Renaissance, great painters always had assistants who would mix the paints and often paint the backgrounds & boring bits (uncredited). In recent times, Jeff Koons doesn't do more than come up with a concept which is then fabricated off site by not artisans but industrial workers. . A component of all art is idea/concept which in this case comes from Sera. Workers/fabricators/assistants understand that they will labor hard but anonymously. Not necessarily fair or right in some people's eyes but understood by them. It is also akin to star architects who come up w/a design but they are not usually on site w/a hammer in hand actually creating the structure, yet there is the name which goes on the cornerstone.

  49. I grew up in the (formerly) intensely industrialized Indiana suburbs of Chicago, and while in college I worked for three summers at the Indiana Harbor works of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Co. The first two years were in what was one of the oldest hot strip mills in the country. At 18, in the grime and noise of the massive machinery, most of which was obsolete-almost ancient-and slated closure when a new mill opened, I felt like I had stepped into the living history of the Industrial Revolution, and the histories of my family and the families of almost all of my friends, as well. I also, for the first time in my life felt genuinely productive. It was the idea of _making_ steel. And it was the experience of seeing continuous sheets of metal, up to half an inch thick being wrapped into neat, tight coils, so hot that they glowed with an inner light, at first silvery and only when cooler did did they glow red. (Taken 10 weeks at a time, the intense, demoralizing boredom of factory work did not have enough time to feel really oppressive.) I was aware of the visual arts, mostly through the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago. But I could see only one or two works of art that even acknowledged the reality I was newly experiencing, let alone incorporate or express it. And yet, it was obvious that the reality of those great machines was the productive basis for much of modern life. Richard Serra's sculptures were the first works of art I saw to do that.

  50. We are never too far removed from the old axiom that goes “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. Oddly this still informs most discussions about art from those who are very knowledgeable to those who really do only know what they like. One reason ‘Tilted Ark’ was so despised was simply because the political content could not be ignored. This work insisted in confronting the Content of the building it was placed in front of. I used to go down to view and experience Titled Ark every few months just to marvel on how a supposedly ‘Abstract’ work could so powerfully comment on location and purpose of the building it was in dialogue with. I never bought the “it was in the way” argument because you would lose no more than 15-20 seconds in the straight line diversion. The reaction to Titled Ark kind of reminds me about the extreme anger towards Obama, in that the stated reasons never explained why the highly emotional response. I would reference an early video work by Serra title “TV Delivers People, which was a very Powerful political work at the time. Not all of his work is as purposely political but he is effective when he goes there.

  51. Note on the '1970' image: The caption does not mention Philip Glass in the background.

  52. I have a hankering to rearrange my garage.

  53. I was introduced to Serra's work when I saw his Torqued Ellipses at Guggenheim in Bilbao. The way they transformed space and made me feel the airiness, the tilt, and the claustrophobia was transformative.

  54. Amazing mind

  55. "Oddly, when I asked him if I could see a photograph of him as a child, Mr. Serra shrugged and said he doesn’t own any. 'Richard was born before the iPhone,' his wife, Clara, added dryly." Seems like a real peach!

  56. Indulgent? Oblivious? Must be nice. Time will tell?

  57. The only thing I've ever found interesting about Rusted Metal Art is the engineering required to defy gravity and keep it from crushing people to death (which Serra's art has on at least one occasion; see Insofar as figuratively defying gravity, Mr. Serra creates public art which is unpopular with the public, but which continues to be praised enthusiastically by insiders in the arts industry, thus supporting two studios in extremely high-rent districts in New York as well as one in Canada.

  58. Fond memories of childhood: playing "Kick the Can" and "One Foot Off the Gutter" with Richard Serra and the other kids on the block when we were in 4th and 5th grade. I have our 5th grade school photo on which I wrote "cute" on Richard!

  59. His massive piece in Bilbao allows you to participate and feel, it cries out to be touched, it asks you to become a part of it. evidently not Rodin. but you cannot leave indifferent.

  60. Tilted Arc was an abomination. It totally destroyed what was supposed to be an open air plaza in front of the new federal building. I testified at the GSA hearing on the Tilted Arc. The New York Times the next day quoted part of my presentation in its article on the GSA hearing. I doubted my testimony in the usual sense would add much to what others who were as strongly as I against the Tilted Arc would say. I therefore put together a few lines of free verse with the last line: "But, they say, it is art. Like a mustache it will grow on you. A steel wall in the middle of a plaza is a steel wall in the middle of a plaza." That afternoon CNN called. They wanted me to be on the Larry King show that evening. I didn't have cable TV. What's CNN, I asked We'll get back to you, which of course they never did. So much the better. The Tilted Arc. My fifteen minutes of fame.

  61. @Donald Nawi . I'll grant you that. But it provided Art History with a wealth of haiographical heresies of gilded golden moment of the gotham myth. The myth started when i took a train downtown to the Mudd Club in 1980. Arrived in the city at 11;30 from Montreal. Rodney and I checked into the YMCA on 34th Street, a cityscape then. Party down. to be continued...

  62. What people consider "art" baffles me. What is so artistic abut a bunch of round steel drums that look like mini oil storage tanks?

  63. Pompous and self-important. And Ms. Solomon continues the critical tradition of agreeing that the Emperor does indeed have clothes, even though some of us know that "art is what you can get away with." At least his work can be sold as scrap.

  64. The steel making, forging and shipping is insanely energy intensive. Ever the Amercan triumphalist, Serra is now closing out his career with 50 ton cylinders aesthetically and philosophically redundant with his work from decades ago. He is a brand name artist taking stale ideas to the bank while the Amazon burns.

  65. Certainly the GSA can find a suitable location in the US to restore and erect “Tilted Arc”. If no municipality would accept it there are National Parks where it could become a valued attraction. As it rests in storage is a colossal waste!

  66. Rusty chunks of metal. As a farmer, I have seen all shapes and sizes of rusty chunks of metal for 50 years. Apparently rusty chunks of metal are new and unique to urban "art" critics and urban dwellers. Interesting. (Oh, and I am not an uneducated Trump supporter-I am a well read Democrat through and through and an attorney in a former life-just to deflect those who may think I'm just a rural heathen who has no knowledge of art or the finer things in life!!) To each their own, I guess.

  67. "Flash on it"... (Richard Serra early 70's) He is the most important Modernist Sculptor alive today. Bruce Nauman is the beginning of Post-Modernism. Another NYT article on Mr. Serra which says nothing and does not look at the work. Surprised that the author didn't pickup on the Le Corbusier glasses and what import that might mean, and how it might help modern sculpture. On a side note, was a studio assistant for a guy that had the same glasses, denotes serious I guess. Nearsighted and 62, but am not going this route (it's kind of like no socks in loafers). First of all the Art. Mr. Serra has given up all notions of a normal life to be the best sculptor in the world. (from various private sources). The stuff is actually funny if you look at it in the right way. The density and scale of it all just keeps giving. Not for nothing that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are noted sculpture names. Also note 7 plates 6 angles is beyond comprehension in just about anything. With his degree in literature from UC Santa Barbara, and having a wide ranging taste in music (Captain Beefheart) his names for his art reflect the same (see: Frank Stella). On a side note he came over for dinner when he was working on a proposal for a sculpture in Washington State, we listened to Television's "Marquee Moon", and had the most interesting conversation regarding "Mondrian" ever.

  68. A room-sized assembly of eight, 40-ton forged-steel blocks that together weigh more than a Boeing 777, will occupy its own gallery in the new David Geffen Wing when the museum reopens on Oct. 21. My Goodness, its'nt that so very very interesting, a Boeing 777, thats not the one that recently went down. So big! Oh my a whole plane you say. Isn't that interesting. Such a fascinating fact: weighs more than the Boeing 777.