Richard Serra, Combining Influences in Abstract Sculpture
One of the most prominent American sculptors of our time, Richard Sera has been inspired by–and has inspired–all types of artistic expression in his 50 years of work. From poets to musicians, painters to other sculptors, Sera has taken visions by other artists to help him shape his personal ideas, formulating unique, and often, large-scale works in his own materials.
Serra began his education at UC Santa Barbara, where he studied literature and worked part time at a steel mill. This is where his interest in industrial materials blossomed. After his time there and studying art at Yale University, he worked in Paris and Italy, and discovered that the boundaries of painting did not suit him. During a time when artists were emanating emotion in drips and pours, excess amounts of paints and theatrical applications, Serra’s scientific mind propelled him to consider what he could build and kept him on the outskirts of the art community. He used his creations to encourage viewers to find their own reality in his works, not just to design something that had a concrete story to tell. His style of art involved a complicated process, and it later became known as Process Art, as viewers bean to appreciate the process of creation within the context of the artwork.
Serra is best known for his monumental steel works, created in a scale so large their display is limited. His works have been scoffed at, ridiculed, and misunderstood due to their material and exhibition location. However, the fusion of creativity and engineering, combined with the innovative use of material which may have been discarded, brings art lovers to discover their own place within the presentation. Serra was fascinated with the idea that sculpture could be designed in a way for the viewer to be part of the experience. To this day, he pursues the idea that not only can viewers be part of the artistic experience, but as they move around the sculpture, their experience—and the work’s meaning—changes.
Notable Pieces and Exhibitions
Serra’s first well-known work and introduction into metallurgy was in 1969, when he splashed liquid metal into corners, creating long lines of hardened steel titled Gutter Corner Splash: Late Shift.
One of Serra’s most infamous work was built in 1981, when he was commissioned by the U.S. government to create a sculpture near the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan, titled Tilted Arc. The 120-foot long behemoth was deemed an eyesore by locals and quietly taken down in pieces under cover of darkness. A legal battle ended in a loss to Serra, who felt defeated and bore a stigma for many years to come.
Serra’s fame reached new heights when he was commissioned to create a collection of eight large-scale works for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This collection challenges visitors to experience the physicality and perceived motion within the work.
One of the most prestigious awards in the art world, regarded as the Olympics of fine art, the Golden Lion Award is given at The Venice Arts Biennale. In 2001, Serra earned the Master of Contemporary Art Golden Lion. Additionally, he has won awards for lifetime achievement, the President’s Medal from the Architectural League of New York, a legion of honor from France and the J. Paul Getty Medal.
Many artists slow in their work as they reach their golden years. However, Richard Serra stands firm in his pursuit of artistic expression, and continues to work in his sketchbook, creating works which have turned the discussion of public sculpture on its ear. He has been quoted as saying “You have to be obstinate,” and persists in using steel for unique structures which challenge the spaces in which they are displayed and the experiences in which visitors encounter them.