Magazine article Sculpture

NEW YORK: Richard Serra

Magazine article Sculpture

NEW YORK: Richard Serra

Article excerpt

David Zwirner Gallery

"Richard Serra: Early Work" focused on the first five years of the artist's sculptural output, from the moment when he began working with found industrial materials (1966) to the completion of his first corpus of works, the monumental propped steel plates (1969-71) that later brought him international renown. Serra selected all of the featured works, established the size (and shape) of the two adjoining galleries in which they were displayed, and curated the installation. I note this, because the first gallery (focusing, with one exception, on works made before 1969) seemed cluttered. I would have liked more breathing room between the objects, but perhaps I am too accustomed to the wide white cube, which allows objects to stand or hang with ample space around them. The close proximity served a purpose, however: the installation recalled a 1968 photograph of Serra in his studio, thereby giving a sense of how one sculptural strategy led to another, as if we were in a laboratory where a variety of experiments were conducted side by side by the artist as scientist/engineer in search of an answer.

A list of verbs written in graphite on paper (1967) was framed near the entrance, establishing the rules by which the game was to be played: "to roll, to crease, to fold, to store, to bend, to shorten..." This list is reminiscent of a well-known passage from Jasper Johns's sketchbook, published in the spring of 1965 in Art and Literature: "Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it." During a recent press conference, Serra stated that he "wanted a proposition that would enable me to work without getting into the subjectivity of my taste. I wanted to set up a simple order of doing things." (The video is available at the Zwirner Gallery Web site.) Created without having to worry about personal preferences, the resulting body of work is remarkable.

In the first gallery (which I will limit myself to, as the later works are better known), we could see Serra experiment with vulcanized rubber (found in a dumpster), rubber, neon tubing, canvas, fiberglass, and lead (brought to his attention by Philip Glass, then a plumber). A transitional floor piece from 1969-emphasizing process, measuring, and the semblance of scattering, all at once-combines lead, wood, stone, and steel. Though Serra was not working in a void-during his Italian sojourn, he met the artists who were later associated with Arte Povera-these works have an atmosphere of considerable risk-taking. …

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