Art; Richard Serra

By Danto, Arthur Coleman | The Nation, April 19, 1986 | Go to article overview

Art; Richard Serra


Danto, Arthur Coleman, The Nation


ART.

Richard Serra

The dominating link of hostorical explanation that recommends itself to art historians is that of influence; no doubt this is so because influence defines that posture of expert appreciation known as connoisseurship, which consists in seeing in the works of X the signs and traces of Y, naturally invisible to the layman. But the dense network of historical causation has many subterranean passageways, and the Museum of Modern Art's overlapping exhibitions of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (until April 15) and Richard Serra (until May 13) provide a good example of a historical link invisible to connoisseurship. They connect the two artists through the materials of their respective projects, and the differential esthetics of oxidation.

Cor-Ten steel has become an emblem of Serra's sculptural persona; it is, for example, what his most notorious work, Tilted Arc, is made of. As a so-called weathering steel, Col-Ten has become the standard material for a certain genre of outdoor sculpture, for reasons the moody commuter might appreciate as he or she inches past the parking garage at La Guardia Airport and casts a grateful eye on the rich, chocolaty coloration of its exposed post and girders. Cor-Ten was designed to weather graciously, to use the processes of rust against itself, transforming that sign of decay and neglect into something rich and strange. It needs no painting, is self-maintaining, and the rate at which it oxidizes, growing more beautiful as it does so, is fractionally slower than that of ordinary steel. It is a triumph of metallurgy, and it was the steel industry's brilliant response to the exorbitant cost of bronze cladding, of which Mies made such extravagant use in the Seagram Building. That breathless masterpiece, which was to define urban architecture through the succeeding decades, was also far too expensive to emulate. The trick was to find a material that would, at a distance, look just like the bronze of the Seagram Building but be within the budget of your ordinary steel-and-glass box in Hamtramck or Des Moines. And Cor-Ten steel was the elegant answer to that esthetic-economic prayer.

So Mies and Serra, museum mates for the moment, are dialectically connected through the material substance in which their work was realized. It is interesting to ponder differences in their response to Cor-Ten's singularities. Mies had a weakness for austere opulence, and a philosophy of material integrity. My one encounter with him was at the Farnsworth House, built in 1945, which a pal of mine, a student of Mies's, drove me out to see. I was curious that he had used travertine marble for the floor of that glass-and-steel country retreat which Dr. Farnsworth, to her sorrow, had commissioned him to design. Well, I recall Mies saying, what is it but four walls and a roof? It's got to have something extra. A man who insists on travertine marble for a weekend house is unlikely to consider using rusted steel because it is cheaper than bronze cladding: it would be like suggesting artificial marbleizing, or formica. On the other hand, there is a certain aggressiveness to Serra's sculptural approach that suggests to me that Cor-Ten's propensity to bronzify in six or seven years would not be a recommendation. Nor do I recall as an argument in the controversy over Tilted Arc that at some point in its eternal tenure at Federal Plaza it would be transfigured by the elements into a thing of beauty. The usual thought was that with time and education we would come to appreciate Tilted Arc more and more for its uncompromising esthetic, not that it would meet us halfway by turning into something gratifying to an esthetic it set out to challenge.

Ashes, dust, moths and rust have, since biblical times, been natural symbols of the decay of earthly things, and rust most particularly afflicts those items of daily life that embody our deepest sense of adequacy and prosperity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Art; Richard Serra
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.