|Education||University of California, Berkeley (attended)|
University of California, Santa Barbara (B.A. 1961)
Yale University (B.F.A. 1962, M.F.A. 1964)
(m. 1965; div. 1970)
Richard Serra (born November 2, 1938) is an American artist, widely known for his very large, self-supporting minimalist sculptures, often of weathered sheet steel.
Early life and education
Serra was born on November 2, 1938, in San Francisco, the second of three sons. His father, Tony, was a Spanish native of Mallorca who worked as a candy factory foreman and in steel mills. Serra described the San Francisco shipyard where his father worked as a pipefitter as an important influence on his work. His mother, Gladys Feinberg, was born in Los Angeles to Russian Jewish immigrants from Odessa and later became a housewife.
Serra studied English literature at the University of California, Berkeley in 1957 before transferring to the University of California, Santa Barbara, graduating with a B.A. English Literature in 1961. At UCSB, he studied art with Howard Warshaw and Rico Lebrun. Serra helped support himself by working in steel mills, strongly influencing his later work. He studied painting in the M.F.A. program at the Yale School of Art between 1961 and 1964. Fellow Yale alumni of the 1960s include the painters, photographers, and sculptors Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Janet Fish, and Sylvia and Robert Mangold. Serra has said took inspiration from the artists who taught there, including Philip Guston, composer Morton Feldman, and painter Josef Albers.
While at Yale, Serra proofed Albers's book Interaction of Color (1963). In 1964, after he received his M.F.A., he was awarded a traveling fellowship from Yale and went to Paris. He was awarded a Fulbright fellowship the following year in Florence. Since then he has lived in New York. In New York, his circle of friends has included Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, and Robert Smithson. At one point, to fund his art, Serra started a furniture-removals business, Low-Rate Movers, and employed Chuck Close, Philip Glass, Spalding Gray, and others.
In 1966, Serra made his first sculptures out of materials including fiberglass and rubber. Serra's earliest work was abstract and process-based made from molten lead hurled in large splashes against the wall of a studio or exhibition space. In 1967 and 1968 he compiled a list of infinitives, titled "Verb List," he later used to inspire his work: "to hurl" suggested the hurling of molten lead; "to roll" led to the rolling materials. In 1969, Jasper Johns invited Serra to create one of his splash pieces in his studio on Houston Street.
In 1969 Serra began looking at cutting, propping or stacking of lead sheets, rough timber, etc., to create large, self-supported. His "Prop" pieces from the late 1960s balance large rolls and sheets by their own shape and weight. Cutting Device: Base Plate Measure (1969) randomly assembles lead, wood, stone and steel pieces into which Serra made parallel cuts. In Malmo Role (1984), a four-foot-square steel plate, one and a half inches thick, resting on a short cylindrical prop wedged into the corner of the walls.
Large steel sculptures
Around 1970, Serra began focusing on large-scale site-specific sculpture, often on a scale that dwarfs the observer and highlighting a viewer's relationships to interior spaces and landscapes. His "Torqued Ellipse" series began in 1996 as single elliptical forms inspired by the space of the early 17th century Baroque church San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome, and consists of large steel plates bent in circular forms with open tops, rotating upward, leaning in and out.
Serra usually begins a sculpture by making a maquette from flat plates at an inch-to-foot ratio: a 40-foot piece will start as a 40-inch model. The models are often constructed in lead, which is highly malleable, and he then consults a structural engineer, to assist with the achieving a piece's balance and stability. The steel pieces are fabricated in Wetzlar, Germany. The steel he uses takes about 8–10 years to develop its characteristic dark, even patina of rust, which once fully oxidize will remain color stable over the life of the sculpture.
Serra's first larger commissions were mostly realized outside the United States. Shift (1970–72) consists of six walls of concrete zigzag across a grassy hillside in King City, Ontario. Spin Out (1972–73), a trio of steel plates facing one another, is on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. (Schunnemunk Fork (1991), is in Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York.) Part of a series works involving round steelplates, Elevation Circles: In and Out (1972–77) was installed at Schlosspark Haus Weitmar in Bochum, Germany.
For documenta VI (1977), Serra designed Terminal, four 41-foot-tall trapezoids that form a tower, sited in front of the main exhibition venue. After long negotiations, accompanied by violent protests, Terminal was purchased by the city of Bochum and finally installed at the city's train station in 1979. Carnegie (1984–85), a 39-foot-high vertical shaft outside the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, received high praise. Similar sculptures, like Fulcrum (1987), Axis (1989), and Torque (1992), were later installed in London's Broadgate, at Kunsthalle Bielefeld, and at Saarland University, respectively. Initially site in the French town of Puteaux, Slat (1985) consists of five steel plates – four trapezoidal and one rectangular – each one roughly 12 feet wide and 40 feet tall, that lean on one another to form a tall, angular tepee. In 1989 vandalism and graffiti prompted that town's mayor to remove it, and only in December 2008, after almost 20 years in storage, Slat was relocated to La Défense. Because of its weight, it is located within a traffic island behind the Grande Arche.
In 1979, Wright's Triangle was installed on Western Washington University's campus, as an addition to the Western Washington University Public Sculpture Collection. The triangular shaped piece was installed at an intersection of three paths that run through the campus.
In 1981, Serra installed Tilted Arc, a 3.5 meter high arc of steel in the Federal Plaza in New York City. Workers in the buildings around the plaza complained that the steel wall obstructed pedestrian movement through the plaza. A public hearing in 1985 voted to move the sculpture. Serra argued the sculpture was site specific and could not be placed elsewhere, saying "to remove the work is to destroy it." Eventually on March 15, 1989, the sculpture was dismantled and consigned to a New York warehouse. In 1999, the pieces were moved to a storage space in Maryland. William Gaddis satirized these events in his 1994 novel A Frolic of His Own.
Serra continues to produce large-scale steel structures globally, and is noted for his monumental arcs, spirals, and ellipses. He was invited to create a number of artworks in France: Philibert et Marguerite in the cloister of the Musée de Brou at Bourg-en-Bresse (1985); Threats of Hell (1990) at the CAPC (Centre d'arts plastiques contemporains de Bordeaux) in Bordeaux; Octagon for Saint Eloi (1991) in the village of Chagny in Burgundy; and Elevations for L'Allée de la Mormaire in Grosrouvre (1993). Alongside those works, Serra designed a series of forged pieces including Two Forged Rounds for Buster Keaton (1991); Snake Eyes and Boxcars (1990–1993), six pairs of forged hyper-dense Cor-Ten steel blocks;, Ali-Frazier (2001), two forged blocks of weatherproof steel; and Santa Fe Depot (2006).
In 2000, he installed a 60-foot-tall sculpture titled Charlie Brown in the atrium of the Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco. Working with spheroid and toroid sections for the first time, Betwixt the Torus and the Sphere (2001) and Union of the Torus and the Sphere (2001). Wake (2003) was installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, with its five pairs of forms, each measuring 14 feet high, 48 feet long and six feet wide.
Named for the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr. (1913–1993), the rolled-steel elliptical sculpture Joe (2000) is the first in Serra's series of "Torqued Spirals". It is, The 42.5-ton piece T.E.U.C.L.A., another part of the "Torqued Ellipse" series and Serra's first public sculpture in Southern California, was installed in 2006 in the plaza of UCLA's Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center. That same year, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa installed Serra's Connector, a 66-foot-tall towering sculpture on its plaza.
Another large sculpture Snake, a trio of sinuous steel sheets creating a curving path is located permanently in at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In 2005, the museum mounted an exhibition of more of Serra's work, incorporating Snake into a collection entitled The Matter of Time. The work consists of eight sculptures measuring between 12 and 14 feet in height and weighing from 44 to 276 tons. Already in 1982–84, he had installed the permanent work La palmera in the Plaça de la Palmera in Barcelona. He has not always fared so well in Spain, however; also in 2005, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid announced that the 38-tonne sculpture Equal-Parallel/Guernica-Bengasi (1986) had been "mislaid". In 2008, a duplicate copy was made by the artist and displayed in Madrid.
In spring 2005, Serra returned to San Francisco to install his first public work there, Ballast (2004), two 50-foot steel plates in the main open space of the new University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus.
In 2008, Serra showed his installation Promenade, a series of five large steel sheets placed at 100-foot intervals through in the Grand Palais as part of the Monumenta exhibition; each sheet weighing 75 tons and measuring 17 meters tall. Serra was the second artist, after Anselm Kiefer, to be invited to fill the 13,500 m² nave of the Grand Palais with works created specially for the event.
In December 2011, Serra unveiled his sculpture 7 in Doha, Qatar. The sculpture, located at the plaza in Doha harbour, is composed of seven steel sheets, 80-foot high and was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority. In March 2014, Serra's East-West/West-East, a site-specific sculpture located at a remote desert location stretching more than a half-mile through Qatar's Brouq nature reserve, was unveiled. In 2015, the sculptor's monumental work Equal, composed of eight blocks of steel and exhibited that year at David Zwirner in New York, was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art.
in 2019, Larry Gagosian featured Serra's work at several of his galleries around New York. Alongside his standard steel sculptures, along with two floors of drawings entitled Triptychs and Diptychs at Madison Avenue.
Prints and drawings
Since 1971, Serra has made large-scale drawings on handmade Hiromi paper or Belgian linen using various techniques. In the early 1970s he drew primarily with charcoal, and lithographic crayon on paper. His primary drawing material has been the paintstick, a wax-like grease crayon. Serra melts several paintsticks to form large pigment blocks. Drawings After Circuit (1972) followed an installation for Documenta of four huge steel plates (8 by 24 feet each) jutting in from the corners of a room, stopping short of meeting in the center.
In the mid-1970s, Serra made his first "Installation Drawings" — monumental works on canvas or linen pinned directly to the wall and thickly covered with black paintstick, such as Abstract Slavery (1974), Taraval Beach (1977), Pacific Judson Murphy (1978), and Blank (1978). The drawings Serra has executed since the 1980s continue the experiments with innovative techniques but are less monumental physically. In the late 1980s, he explored how to further articulate the tension of weight and gravity by placing pairs of overlapping sheets of paper saturated with paintstick in horizontal and vertical compositions, using a mesh screen as an intermediary between the gesture and the transfer of pigment to the paper.
Richard Serra is also a printmaker who has pushed the boundaries of the print medium. Serra began his exploration of printmaking in 1972. When he began printmaking, he was already known for his use of raw steel and other industrial materials in his large scale sculpture. As in his sculpture, Serra achieves these same qualities of massiveness and an intimidating sense of monumentality in his 2-dimensional prints. Serra’s prints are also about tactility. His prints are made deploying thick, black ink as a medium and a property which is massive and ominous. In his etching, Level IV, 2010, Serra uses a densely textured ink that appears similar to paintstick which conveys the weight and physical presence similar to his sculpture.
At the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Serra showed a simple litho crayon drawing of an Abu Ghraib prisoner with the caption "STOP BUSH." Serra also created a variation on Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son featuring George W. Bush's head in place of Saturn's. This was featured prominently in an ad for the website pleasevote.com (now defunct) on the back cover of the July 5, 2004 issue of The Nation.
Performance and video art
Serra was one of the four performers in the premiere of the Steve Reich piece Pendulum Music on May 27, 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The other performers were Michael Snow, James Tenney and Bruce Nauman.
Hand Catching Lead (1968) was Serra's first film and features a single shot of a hand in an attempt to repeatedly catch chunks of material dropped from the top of the frame. He also co-produced the 1973 short video Television Delivers People, a critique of the corporate mass media with elevator music as the soundtrack. In Boomerang (1974), Serra taped Nancy Holt as she talks and hears her words played back to her after they have been delayed electronically. The host of Serra's 1974 parody game show, Prisoners' Dilemma, explains that the loser will spend six hours alone in a basement.
Railroad Turnbridge (1976) is a series of shots taken on the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1 over the Willamette River near Portland, Oregon, as it opens to let a ship pass. In Steelmill/Stahlwerk, a 1979 documentary made in collaboration with Clara Weyergraf, Serra explores the physical construction of an art piece and at the same time examines the lives of the steelmill. These films can be viewed in a room off the Arcelor gallery in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.
Serra appears in Matthew Barney's 2002 film Cremaster 3 as Hiram Abiff ("the architect"), and later as himself in the climactic The Order section – the only part of a Cremaster film commercially available on DVD.
For the city of Goslar, Serra designed Gedenkstätte Goslar (1981). In 1987, he created Berlin Junction as a memorial to those who lost their lives to the Nazis' genocide program. First shown at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, the sculpture was installed permanently at the Berliner Philharmonie in 1988. For the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, he designed Gravity, a 10-inch-thick, 10-foot-square standing slab of steel, in 1993. After initially joining with architect Peter Eisenmann to submit a design for Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Serra declined the project for "personal and professional reasons" in 1998.
Shortly after Serra arrived in New York, Robert Morris invited him to participate in a group show at Castelli Gallery. He had his first solo exhibitions at the Galleria La Salita, Rome, 1966, and in the United States at the Leo Castelli Warehouse, New York. The Pasadena Art Museum organized a solo exhibition of Serra's work in 1970. Serra has since participated in Documentas 5 (1972), 6 (1977), 7 (1982), and 8 (1987), in Kassel, the Venice Biennales of 1984 and 2001, and the Whitney Museum of American Art's Annual and Biennial exhibitions of 1968, 1970, 1973, 1977, 1979, 1981, and 1995. Serra was honored with further solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany, in 1978; the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1984; the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, in 1985; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1986. From 1997 to 1998 his Torqued Ellipses (1997) were exhibited at and acquired by the Dia Center for the Arts, New York. In 2005 eight major works by Serra were installed permanently at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
In the summer of 2007 the Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of Serra's work in New York. Intersection II (1992–1993) and Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) were included in this show along with three new works. The retrospective consisted of 27 of Serra's works, including three large new sculptures made specifically for the second floor of the museum, two works in the garden, and earlier pieces from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Major presentations of Serra's graphic oeuvre include exhibitions at the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, in 1990; at Serpentine Gallery, London, in 1992; and at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, in 2008. Also in 2008, he was invited to take over the Grand Palais in Paris for the bi-annual Monumenta series, with a work consisting of towering steel cenotaphs. In 1980, Serra installed "Elevator, 1980" at Hudson River Museum.
In 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Menil Collection hosted a retrospective exhibit focusing on Serra's drawings, tracing the development of his drawing as an art form independent from yet linked to his sculptural practice.
Serra's work can be found in many international public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since the early 1970s, Serra has completed many private commissions, most of them funded by European patrons. Private commissions in the United States include sculptures for Eli Broad (No Problem, 1995), Jeffrey Brotman, Peggy and Ralph Burnet (To Whom It May Concern, 1995), Gil Freisen, Alan Gibbs (Te Tuhirangi Contour, 1999–2001), Ivan Reitman, Steven H. Oliver (Snake Eyes and Boxcar, 1990–93), Leonard Riggio, Agnes Gund (Iron Mountain Run, 2002) and Mitchell Rales.
Serra's work was featured on BBC One in "Imagine ... Richard Serra: Man of Steel" on Tuesday November 25, 2008 which described him as "Sculptor and giant of modern art Richard Serra discusses his extraordinary life and work. A creator of enormous, immediately identifiable steel sculptures that both terrify and mesmerize, Serra believes that each viewer creates the sculpture for themselves by being within it." Contributors include Chuck Close, Philip Glass and Glenn D Lowry, Director of MoMA. He was interviewed at length by the BBC's Alan Yentob.
In 1975, Serra received the Skowhegan Medal for Sculptur; the Goslarer Kaiserring in 1981; and the Wilhem Lehmbruck Prize for Sculpture in 1991. In 1993, Serra was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Akademie der Künste (Germany), as well as having been named member of the Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste (2002) in Germany and Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2008) in France. In 1994, he was honored with the Praemium Imperiale. In 2006 he was elected into the National Academy of Design. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2012. Serra has been awarded the Presidentʼs Medal from the Architectural League of New York in 2014, the first time the prize has been given to an artist. In 2015, he received France's Insignes de Chevalier de l'Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur.
Serra received honorary degrees of Doctor of Fine Arts by Williams College in 2008; the California College of Arts and Crafts, the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, Yale University, and Universidad Pública de Navarra (2009); and by Harvard University in 2010.
Along with the debate surrounding Tilted Arc, two incidents affected Serra's public image. In November 1971, a laborer installing Sculpture No. 3 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, was crushed to death when a two-ton steel plate toppled. A subsequent lawsuit absolved the artist and museum of blame. In October 1989, another worker lost a leg while dismantling a 16-ton Serra sculpture at the Leo Castelli Gallery.
In 2002, an installation titled Vectors was to be built at the California Institute of Technology from the bequest of Eli Broad. The proposed 80-ton piece, to be four steel plates of similar material as Tilted Arc zig-zagging across one of the few green spaces at the university, met significant opposition by the student body and professors as being a "'derivative' rehash of earlier works, or an 'arrogant' piece that [belied] Institute values." The piece was never installed.
A few of Serra's top auction prices are for sculpture; others are for his works on paper. In 2001, an untitled, 1984 curved steel wall sold for $1.2 million at Sotheby's New York. The current record auction price for a Serra sculpture was paid at Sotheby's in 2008, where 12-4-8, a 1983 work consisting of three steel plates, sold for $1.65 million.
Richard Bellamy director of the Noah Goldowsky Gallery became Serra's first dealer. By 1969 Serra was regularly showing his works at the Leo Castelli Gallery and receiving a regular gallery stipend of $500 a month. Galerie m in Bochum, Germany, has represented Serra in Europe since 1975. Gagosian Gallery became the artist's primary dealer in 1991 after opening a space in New York's Soho district. Since 1972, with publisher Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, Serra has released 170 different prints, 120 of them since 1990.
Owners, whether individuals or museums, are prohibited from moving or altering his work without his permission, and a collector cannot offer a work for sale to another collector without offering it to Serra first.
Serra's older brother is the noted San Francisco trial attorney Tony Serra. The two have been estranged for almost 40 years, since their mother committed suicide. Serra was married to artist Nancy Graves from 1965 to 1970. He subsequently married art historian Clara Weyergraf in 1981. Since 1977, Serra and Weyergraf have lived on several floors of a former manufacturing building in Tribeca. Since the late 1970s, they have spent part of the year in an 18th-century farmhouse on a hill above the Northumberland Strait in Inverness County, Nova Scotia, and on the North Fork, Long Island.
- Environmental sculpture
- Site-specific art
- The Hedgehog and the Fox (sculpture)
- Robert Smithson
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- New Yorker, Man of Steel
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- Ben Luke (November 3, 2016), Artists raise millions for Hillary Clinton Archived November 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine The Art Newspaper.
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