August 17, 2007

Richard Serra at MoMA

The word "monumental" springs to mind when thinking of how to describe MoMA's summer exhibition "Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years". How else could one summarize 550 tons of rolled steel torqued and twisted into impossible shapes that totally envelope the visitor? Spread throughout the museum premises, from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden to the Second floor Contemporary Galleries to the top floor's International Council Galleries, are 26 works of art that highlight this American artist's career from its infancy in the 1960's to 3 brand new works that had never before been exhibited.

Although Richard Serra (b. 1939) majored in painting when he graduated Yale University's School of Art and Architecture in 1964, he quickly discovered that sculpture was his true calling and he began to create works using non-traditional materials such as rubber, lead and fiberglass. It became not so much the finished product that excited him, but the act of creating works of art. This involvement in the physicality of fabrication has evolved from his early "Splash Pieces" that literally involved throwing spoonfuls of molten lead against the warehouse wall of his art dealer, the legendary Leo Castelli, to his recent steel sculptures that engage the viewer with the experience of traveling through the piece.

It is hard to describe the emotional response to the experiential viewing of a huge work of art. It is a totally different process than simply standing back and having a look. The pieces are immense, but the visitor is drawn to enter the small opening that leads into the sculpture and then is literally surrounded by high walls of rolled steel that curve and lean, at the same time, in seemingly impossible angles. It is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating. Not a thrill like a carnival ride, but a challenge to the senses and perception. Is it safe? Will they fall? Can I find my way out? And finally, relief, and a new appreciation for the beauty and magnificence of Serra's visions of form and space. A monumental experience in every way!

Installing a Richard Serra sculpture
at the Museum of Modern Art
Spring 2007

No comments: