Day 208/365 of Steel – Richard Serra

Man of steel – Richard Serra ! (b. November 2, 1938)
Richard Serra is an American artist known for his large-scale sculptures made for site-specific landscape, urban, and architectural settings. Serra’s sculptures are notable for their material quality and exploration of the relationship between the viewer, the work, and the site.

Torqued Spiral (Open Left Closed Right), Weathering Steel
Fig 1: Torqued Spiral (Open Left Closed Right), Weathering Steel
Photo: © 2023 Richard Serra/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

*His towering curves and sheets of oxidised steel are now an artistic signature, as instantly recognizable as Giacometti’s elongated figures or Rothko’s swathes of deep, dark colour. When he installed his best known work, a series of huge rolled steel sculptures collectively entitled ‘The Matter of Time’ in the Bilbao Guggenheim in 2005, the art historian Robert Hughes called him ‘not only the best sculptor alive, but the only great one at work anywhere in the 21st century’.

Richard Serra, Snake, 1994–97
Fig 2: Richard Serra, Snake, 1994–97
Photo: © Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

When you discover his Matter of Time, you see immediately what Robert Hughes meant when he wrote that Serra’s achievement ‘has been to give fabricated steel the power and density… the sense of empathy and urgency and liberation that once belonged only to bronze and stone’. Serra radically transforms any context in which he places his giant steel curves. The monumental weight of these sculptures is tangible as soon as you enter the space.

Hot-rolled steel, Eight plates.
Fig 3: Hot-rolled steel, Eight plates.
Photo: © 2011 Richard Serra / Erika Barahona -Ede

‘It’s all about centralizing the space in different ways. How people move in relation to space, that’s essentially what I’m up to’, Serra says. Now, older and wiser but still combative, he senses a change in both the critical and public response to his work.

What does he think caused the shift in attitude? How did he go from, as one critic put it, ‘being a steely pariah to New York’s favorite sculptor’? He doesn’t even have to think about the answer. ‘It was the curves,’ he says, laughing. ‘It was definitely the curves. When I showed the first series of Torqued Ellipses in New York there was a definite sense that people were reacting to the work in a different way.

People reacted to the curves in a way they didn’t to the angles and straight lines. They hadn’t seen that before. Modernism was a right angle; the whole 20th century was a right angle.”
(*Extracts from the interview with Sean O’Hagan for The Observer in 2008)

Fig 4: Sequence
Photo: © Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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