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Richard Serra

(b. 1939)


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(1939– ).

Sculptor, draftsman, printmaker, and film and video artist. Best known for monumental steel abstractions, throughout his career he has emphasized the weight of materials and their interaction with specific spaces. While his work originated in the context of minimalism, he also made important contributions to process art. Born in San Francisco, in 1961 Serra received a BA in English from the University of California after study at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses. From that fall until 1964, he studied at Yale University, earning BFA and MFA degrees. For the following two years he lived in Europe with Nancy Graves (they married in 1965 but divorced five years later) before settling in New York. Upon his return, he started experimenting with the physical properties of nontraditional materials, such as rubber and fiberglass. In a group of Splash pieces executed between 1968 and 1970, he cast molten lead by sloshing it into corners or intersections of wall and floor. In 1969 he embarked on a series of large sculptures made from detached, weighty metal elements balanced to remain in place through gravity alone. In the same period, he also began experimenting with film and video. Before the mid-1960s Serra had worked primarily as a painter, and he has continued to pursue two-dimensional concerns in drawings and prints, primarily lithographs, defining simple images with aggressive draftsmanship. Serra became the object of public attention after his Tilted Arc (1981) was installed in lower Manhattan's Federal Plaza (also known as Foley Square), dividing the space it occupied. Many plaza-users found this rusty metal wall objectionable. After much controversy, in 1989 it was removed to storage, despite Serra's contention that the work's integrity depended upon its placement in the particular space for which it had been designed. Undeterred, Serra has continued to pursue ever-larger projects. As they have grown in ambition, they have also increasingly attai ned poetic force on an epic scale. First shown in 1997, a series of Torqued Ellipses (followed by Torqued Spirals) present curved sheets of two-inch-thick rolled steel in dynamic configurations. Inspired by an early 1990s visit to Francesco Borromini's Baroque masterpiece, the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome, the sculptures bend and twist, encouraging the moving viewer to engage questions of perception and its links to time. Building on the success of these works, in 2004–5 Serra arranged a vigorously interrelated sequence of eight pieces, each some thirteen or fourteen feet in height, in a 430-foot gallery within the Guggenheim Museum's Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao satellite. Claiming the entire space as a sculptural field, this singular theatrical installation titled The Matter of Time may long remain unmatched for ambition and impact.

Subjects: Art.


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