Serra, Richard

born Nov. 2, 1939, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.

U.S. sculptor.

He paid for his education at the University of California by working in steel factories. From 1961 he studied with Josef Albers at Yale University. He settled in New York City с 1966 and began to experiment with new materials. In 1967–68 he displayed a series of works entitled Splashes, which were pieces of molten lead thrown against a wall in a gallery; the resulting solidified lead could be seen as sculpture, although Serra himself viewed the process of creation as more important than the end result. In 1969–70 gravity became a major element of his work; the Prop series consisted of huge plates of lead or steel leaning against each other, supported only by their opposing weights. He is best known for his enormous, sometimes controversial, outdoor pieces that interact with the environment, particularly Tilted Arc, installed in New York's Federal Plaza in 1981 but removed in 1989. His work has been defined as Minimalist.

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▪ 2008

born Nov. 2, 1939, San Francisco, Calif.

      American sculptor Richard Serra's 2007 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was a major event for the art world; the museum had even designed its newest gallery space with his massive work in mind. Serra was best known for his large-scale abstract steel sculptures whose substantial presence forced viewers to engage with the works and their sites. Like other minimalists of his generation, Serra steered clear of art as metaphor or symbol, proposing instead the idea of sculpture as an experience of weight, gravity, space, process, and time.

      Serra was exposed early to the processes of metalwork; his father worked as a pipe fitter in the shipbuilding industry, and Richard worked in steel mills during his college years. He entered the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957 and graduated from the university's Santa Barbara campus in 1961 with a B.A. in English literature. Since childhood Serra had been interested in art, however, and he went on to study painting at Yale University, where by 1964 he had earned both B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees. Supported by fellowships, he spent time in France and Italy before moving in 1966 to New York City.

      Serra's sculptures and drawings were exhibited regularly in Europe and the U.S., and in 1968 he began his long association with Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City; an early show consisted of molten-lead splashings and castings at the meeting of wall and floor. The scale of Serra's work grew with pieces (his “props”) constructed by such techniques as pinning a sheet of steel to the wall with a rolled lead pipe or leaning the sheets against each other in different configurations held together by gravity alone. In 1970 he began creating his large-scale sculptures of rolled steel plates and curved slabs, made to fit specific sites. Serra's interest in place and the way an object could shape the space around it made him a popular artist for public art commissions. Tilted Arc, commissioned in 1981 by the U.S. government for the Federal Plaza in New York City, brought about arguments in court about its artistic purpose and its effect on the public space; the piece was destroyed in 1989. In 1993 Serra became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A large permanent installation of eight Serra works was completed in 2005 at the Guggenheim Bilbao (Spain), in what critics praised as a stunningly appropriate use of their setting. Serra's work was to be showcased at Monumenta, the contemporary art show at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 2008.

Editor

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▪ American artist
born Nov. 2, 1939, San Francisco, Calif., U.S.
 
 American sculptor who is best known for his large-scale abstract steel sculptures, whose substantial presence forced viewers to engage with the works and their sites. Like other minimalists (minimalism) of his generation, Serra steered clear of art as metaphor or symbol, proposing instead the idea of sculpture as a phenomenological experience of weight, gravity, space, process, and time. Yet his sculptures evoked a sense of the sublime through their sheer scale and materiality.

      Serra was exposed early to the processes of metalwork; his father worked as a pipe fitter in the shipbuilding industry, and Richard worked in steel mills during his college years. He entered the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957 and graduated from the university's Santa Barbara campus in 1961 with a B.A. in English literature. Serra had been interested in art since childhood, however, and he went on to study painting at Yale University, where by 1964 he had earned both B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees. Supported by fellowships, he spent time in France and Italy before moving to New York City in 1966.

      Serra's sculptures and drawings were exhibited regularly in Europe and the United States, and in 1968 he began a long association with the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City; an early show consisted of molten-lead splashings and castings at the meeting of wall and floor. The scale of Serra's work grew with pieces (his “props”) constructed by such techniques as pinning a sheet of steel to the wall with a rolled lead pipe and leaning steel sheets against each other in configurations that were held together by gravity alone. In 1970 he began creating large-scale sculptures of rolled steel plates and curved slabs that were designed for specific sites. Serra's interest in place and the way an object could shape the space around it made him a popular artist for public art commissions. One of his key artworks, Tilted Arc, commissioned in 1981 by the U.S. government for Federal Plaza in New York City, brought heated discussions about its artistic purpose and its effect on the public space. The piece, which measured 120 feet (36 metres) long and 12 feet (almost 4 metres) high, was positioned in such a manner that movement through the plaza was impeded, thus forcing people to engage with the sculpture by walking around it to cross the plaza. After a public hearing in 1985 and a challenge by Serra, the piece was destroyed in 1989.

      In 1993 Serra became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Eight Serra works, collectively called The Matter of Time (completed 2005), were permanently installed at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain), in what critics praised as a stunningly appropriate use of their setting. Serra in 2008 became the second artist invited to participate in Monumenta, an art exhibition for which a selected artist creates an original exhibition within the nave of the Grand Palais in Paris.

Additional Reading
Exhibition catalogs include Tate Gallery, Richard Serra: Weight and Measure (1992); Rosalind Krauss and Douglas Crimp, Richard Serra: Sculpture, ed. by Laura Rosenstock (1986); and Musée National d'Art Moderne (France), Richard Serra (1983), which includes an interview with the artist. Other sources on Serra are Richard Serra, Writings, Interviews (1994); Clara Weyergraf-Serra and Martha Buskirk (eds.), The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents (1991); and Russell Ferguson, Anthony McCall, and Clara Weyergraf-Serra (eds.), Richard Serra: Sculpture, 1985–1998 (1998).

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Universalium. 2010.

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