Richard Serra

Richard Serra

Infobox Artist
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = Richard Serra

imagesize =
caption =
birthname =
birthdate = birth date and age|1939|11|02
location = San Francisco, California
deathdate =
deathplace =
nationality = American
field = minimalist sculptor
training = Yale University
movement = Process Art
works =
patrons =
influenced by = Robert Smithson
influenced =
awards =

Richard Serra (born November 29, 1939) is an American minimalist sculptor and video artist known for working with large scale assemblies of sheet metal. Serra was involved in the Process Art Movement.

Early life and education

Serra was born in San Francisco and he went on to study English literature at the University of California, Berkeley and later at the University of California, Santa Barbara between 1957 and 1961. He then studied fine art at Yale University between 1961 and 1964. While on the West Coast, he helped support himself by working in steel mills which was to have a strong influence on his later work.

He is the brother of famed San Francisco trial attorney Tony Serra.Serra lives outside of New York and in Nova Scotia.

In June, 2008, Williams College conferred upon Mr. Serra the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.


Serra's earliest work was abstract and process-based made from molten lead hurled in large splashes against the wall of a studio or exhibition space. Still, he is better known for his minimalist constructions from large rolls and sheets of metal (COR-TEN-Steel). Many of these pieces are self-supporting and emphasize the weight and nature of the materials. Rolls of lead are designed to sag over time. His exterior steel sculptures go through an initial oxidation process, but after 8-10 years, the patina of the steel settles to one color that will remain relatively stable over the piece's life. Serra often constructs site-specific installations, frequently on a scale that dwarfs the observer.

In 1981, Serra installed "Tilted Arc", a gently curved, 3.5 meter high arc of rusting mild steel in the Federal Plaza in New York City. There was controversy over the installation from day one, largely from workers in the buildings surrounding the plaza who complained that the steel wall obstructed passage through the plaza. A public hearing in 1985 voted that the work should be moved, but Serra argued the sculpture was site specific and could not be placed anywhere else. Serra famously issued an often-quoted statement regarding the nature of site-specific art when he said, "To remove the work is to destroy it." Eventually on 15 March 1989, the sculpture was dismantled by federal workers and taken for scrap. William Gaddis satirized these events in his biting 1994 novel A Frolic of His Own.

In 2002, a similar installation titled Vectors was to be built at the California Institute of Technology from the bequest of Eli Broad. The piece, to be four steel plates of similar material as Tilted Arc zig-zagging across one of the few green spaces at the university, met significant opposition by the student body and professors as being a "'derivative” rehash of earlier works, or an 'arrogant' piece that [belied] Institute values." [citation | title= Serra sculpture debate continues | author=Caltech | publisher=Caltech | year=2002 | date= October 17, 2002 | url= | accessdate=2008-08-24 ] The piece was never installed.

Another famous work of Serra's is the mammoth sculpture "Snake", a trio of sinuous steel sheets creating a curving path, permanently located in the largest gallery of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In 2005, the museum mounted an exhibition of more of Serra's work, incorporating "Snake" into a collection entitled "The Matter of Time". The whole work consists of eight sculptures measuring between 12 and 14 feet in height and weighing from 44 to 276 tons. [citation | title= Artist's Dossier: Richard Serra | author=Jeannie Rosenfeld | publisher=ARTINFO | year=2006 | date= October 1, 2006 | url= | accessdate=2008-04-28 ]

He has not always fared so well in Spain, however; also in 2005, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid announced that a 38-tonne sculpture of his had been "mislaid." [ (BBC)]

In spring 2005, Serra returned to San Francisco to install his first public work in that city (previous negotiations for a commission fell through) - two 50 foot steel blades in the main open space of the new University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus. Weighing 160 tons, placing the work in its Mission Bay location posed serious challenges, since it is, like many parts of San Francisco, built on landfill. In 2000 he installed 'Charlie Brown,' a 60-foot tall sculpture in the new Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco. To encourage oxidation, or rust, sprinklers were initially directed toward the four German-made slabs of steel that make up the work (see External links).

At the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Serra showed a simple litho crayon drawing of an Abu Ghraib prisoner with the caption "STOP BUSH." This image was later used by the Whitney Museum to make posters for the Biennial. The posters featured an altered version of the text that read "STOP B S ."

Museum and private commissions are what take up much of Serra’s time, and he is very selective. He completed 13 works between 2001 and 2006.

In the summer of 2007 the Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of Serra's work in New York. Intersection II (1992-1993) and Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) were included in this show along with three new works. [ [ Details of 2007 Moma Retrospective] ] The retrospective consisted of 27 of Serra's works, including three large new sculptures made specifically for the second floor of the museum, two works in the garden, and earlier pieces from the 1960s through the 1980s.citation | title=Richard Serra | author=Robert Ayers | publisher=ARTINFO | year=2007 | date= April 11, 2007 | url=| accessdate=2008-04-28 ]

Work similar to that of his in the Netherlands (pictured) can be found in Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York. [ [ Schunnemunk Fork details at Storm King] ]

Colby College recently acquired 150 works on paper by Serra, making it the second largest collection of Serra's work outside of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

From May 7th to June 15th 2008 Richard Serra shows his installation „Promenade“ at the Grand Palais, Paris. „A radical, poetic landscape of steel, minimalist yet full of movement.“Serra is the second artist, after Anselm Kiefer, who was invited to fill the 13,500 m2 nave of the Grand Palais with a group of new works created specially for the event.

Video art

"Hand Catching Lead" (1968) was Serra's first film and features a single shot of a hand in an attempt to repeatedly catch chunks of material dropped from the top of the frame. [UbuWeb Film: [ Hand Catching Lead (1968)] ] In "Boomerang" (1974), Serra taped Nancy Holt as she talks and hears her words played back to her after they have been delayed electronically.

Serra has made a number of films concerning the manufacture and use of his favorite material, steel. "Steelworks" is shot inside a German steelworks and includes an interview with a steelworker, while "Railroad Turnbridge" is a series of shots taken on the Burlington and Northern bridge over the Willamette River near Portland, Oregon, as it opens to let a ship pass. These films can be viewed in a room off the Arcelor gallery in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

He also produced the classic 1973 short film "Television Delivers People", a critique of the corporate mass media with elevator music as the soundtrack.

Serra plays Hiram Abiff ("the architect") in Matthew Barney's 2002 film Cremaster 3 and is in the DVD edit called "The Order." []


Serra was one of the four performers in the premiere of the Steve Reich piece "Pendulum Music" on May 27th 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The other performers were Michael Snow, James Tenney and Bruce Nauman.

ee also

*Robert Smithson who greatly influenced Serra
*Site-specific art
*Environmental sculpture


External links

*A [ short documentary] by KQED-TV's Spark on a Serra's piece for UCSF.
* [ Biography, interviews, essays, artwork images and video clips] from PBS series "" - Season 1 (2001).
* [ MoMA: Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years]
* [ PBS: Richard Serra]
* [ Richard Serra interviewed by Klaus Ottmann]
* [ Richard Serra at Gagosian Gallery]
* [,11710,1511714,00.html Robert Hughes: Richard Serra (22/06/05)]
* [ Charlie Brown, 2000, by Richard Serra]
* [ Richard Serra in Literal, Latin American Voices]
* [ Television Delivers People (1973)]
* [ 1992 Richard Serra monograph by Adrian Searle]
* [$artistdetail?SERRAR Richard Serra] in the [ Video Data Bank]

NAME=Serra, Richard
DATE OF BIRTH=November 2, 1939
PLACE OF BIRTH=San Francisco, California, United States of America

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