About The Artist
As a young man, American sculptor Richard Serra (b. 1939) spent his summers working at the steel mill, an experience that would later inform the multi-ton and multi-story Cor-ten steel sculptures that the artist is so well known for. As he recounted to The New Yorker in 2002: “I started [working at the steel mill] when I was 15. It was very useful. It’s probably why I do what I do.”
Serra was born in San Francisco and earned his BA in English literature at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara before receiving an MFA in 1964 from Yale, where he studied alongside classmates including Brice Marden and Chuck Close. Post-graduation, he received grants to live in Paris and Florence, and presented his first solo show at Galleria La Salita in Rome in 1966.
That same year, Serra moved to New York City, where he befriended Minimalist Donald Judd and earthworks artist Robert Smithson—the three artists would often come to be lumped together for their brute and “macho” artwork. Serra reinforced this categorization by creating highly physical and performative artworks that entailed splashing molten lead onto floors and walls in the 1960s. In 1970, Serra had his first solo show in the United States with Leo Castelli in New York, featuring an arrangement of minimalist steel plates and rods. It was around this time that Serra made the shift to large-scale, outdoor, public sculpture. Spin Out (1972-73), a set of three Cor-Ten steel plates at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterloo, Holland, was among the first of these large-scale sculptures.
In 1981, Serra’s 120-foot-long and 12-foot high Titled Arc (1981, destroyed), commissioned by the Arts-in-Architecture program of the U.S. General Services Administration and installed in Federal Plaza, New York City, incited a national controversy and a lingering and fiery discussion was sustained throughout the 1980s and 90s regarding public art. Serra explained of the artwork: "The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes." Museum curators and art world experts deemed it a great work of art, while the public, namely the employees and citizens that frequented the building, felt it to be a nuisance and a disruption of public space, and joined in efforts to have it removed. Serra responded impertinently at the time: "I don't think it is the function of art to be pleasing. Art is not democratic. It is not for the people." The piece was ultimately cut into three pieces and ignobly dumped in a scrap metal yard, but nevertheless, Serra continued to gain public and private commissions the world over. The list of publically viewable large-scale sculptures by Serra is long, and includes sites such as the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle; Gap Inc. headquarters, San Francisco; the plaza of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center at UCLA; the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; and an 80-foot high sculpture in Doha, Qatar commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority. In 2014, Serra unveiled a second sculpture in Qatar, reaching lengths of over half a mile.
Serra’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Schjeldahl, Peter. “Industrial Strength: A Richard Serra Retrospective.” The New Yorker 11 June 2007. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Tomkins, Calvin. “Man of Steel.” The New Yorker 5 Aug 2002. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc.” Culture Shock: Visual Arts. PBS.org. PBS Online. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.