Artist Spotlight – Richard Serra
 

 Artist Spotlight – Richard Serra



#ARTWISEUP by SAL McINTYRE
SEPTEMBER 6, 2019 
 

Being born to a father who worked in steel mills and as a pipe-fitter in a San Francisco shipyard sheds much light on the nature of the work of Richard Serra, the most famous living sculptor in America. Says Serra of that influence, “All the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a recurring dream.” His monumental scale abstract sculptures, often public installations, are indeed dreamlike — their austerity nearly violently throwing the observer into a labyrinth of existential questions and intangible navigations of the psyche. His concepts and their manifestations are however inarguably tangible, seeing as to how weighty they are, whether it be in some number of tons of raw steel, or in the depth and simplicity of the black he uses in two-dimensional works. Without attempting to put words to such fundamental themes, it begs to mention a staggering intuitive resonance, something which has the power to delight the one discovering the hidden corners of his twisting, curving forms — whether they be through material interaction or by simply viewing a process-driven exposé.

Even at 80 years old, Serra is working hard and celebrating a trio of shows opening in mid-September with New York’s Gagosian Gallery, at three different locations around Manhattan. A recent New York Times article about these shows describes some of the work as “like taking a lion for a walk.” Nobody, it seems, does understated maximalism quite like Serra.

Richard Serra – Blindspot, SIGNED offset lithograph 2003

An excellent example of his trademark voice, this original print run exhibition poster Blindspot features a characteristic large sculpture designed to present a delineated space in which a viewer can interact— and experience the work with their own presence rather than merely through the filter of the intellect. This piece from a Gagosian Gallery show in 2003 is signed by Serra.

Richard Serra – Measurements Of Time - Seeing Is Believing, SIGNED offset lithograph 1996

And for another signed original exhibition poster, this 1996 work Measurements of Time - Seeing is Believing references possibly cross-sections of earth layers, advancement achieved through steps, or perhaps mathematical evolutions, all without saying any of those things explicitly. The interpretation is largely left up to the viewer, Serra acting as a mere conduit for some unutterable universality.

Richard Serra – Black Sun, offset lithograph 2015

In this engaging large scale limited edition poster from a show at Switzerland’s Beyeler Foundation, a Black Sun dominates the field of view, throwing out into the collective conversation questions of the nature of light, the symbolism of the sun and the qualities of the color black. In color theory, black is not the absence of information but rather the combination of all the colors together— a metaphor for the earth and the prime matter from which all life springs. Serra is maybe content to just pose the unspoken question, or rather to allow us to do it to our own discretion.

 
"... throwing the observer into a labyrinth of existential questions and intangible navigations of the psyche."
 
Richard Serra – Steelmill At Castelli's, offset lithograph

With Steelmill At Castelli's, a collection of photographs from inside a steel mill shows a brutalist yet highly dynamic industrialism, an unpolished view documenting labor and machinery that is a glimpse into the kind of inspiration Serra is tapping. This first edition exhibition poster even references a style of typography famous in the history of graphic design, coming straight from influences like Constructivism, the Bauhaus era and a particular well-known 1960 poster titled Weniger Lärm, a fitting theme for this type of topic.

Richard Serra – In His Studio (1968), SIGNED offset lithograph 2013

In another signed original exhibition poster In His Studio (1968), we get to see the man at work, with his posture and mental engagement just as compelling as the massive sheet metal laid out in front of him mid-process. On the wall to his left lounges a motley crew of either half-finished ideas or past completed projects, a blissful vision of the potential contents of his mind— and glowing, surrounded as they are by an ultra-hip warehouse-style workspace that he clearly has under his complete sway.

Richard Serra – Slice: Plans For Future Leo Castelli, offset lithograph 1981

And lastly, Slice: Plans for Future Leo Castelli brings an element of color into the fray, if only as a classic blueprint for architectural construction. This is a first edition exhibition poster published by Leo Castelli for an event held from February 28th to April 4th in 1981. The sketch represents plans for the future Castelli Gallery which would be at 142 Greene Street in SoHo. Here we get to appreciate not only his strict and mathematical mind but also his affinity for organic forms, adhering loyally as he does to the beauty of the curve.