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.