October 4, 2011


While walking through the dramatic, richly colored spaces of Richard Serra's monumental new work at Gagosian Gallery, I wondered how it was that my feeling about his work had made a complete about face over thirty years.

Where now I see beautiful forms moving through space in subtle and distinctive ways, making me aware of each shift and tilt of the curving plane, thirty years ago I saw bullying, aggressive, threatening sculpture. I knew of the deadly accident during the installation of one of Serra's sculptures in 1971, and a later one that hurt workers and damaged a building. When the Tilted Arc controversy erupted in 1981, I sided with the workers who felt disturbed by the huge piece of steel slicing across their plaza. Serra's work made me angry: it was too big, too frightening to be near; it was a brutal exercise of male power.

But now, for me these overhead photos of the current work on view – Junction on the left, and Cycle – show the sculpture as fluid and organic, even lyrical; I see grace, not threat.

I think that simple familiarity has made me more comfortable with the sculpture, and that installers know how to handle it so there are no more terrible accidents. The bending and tilting of the huge sheets of steel are now an invitation to explore a new kind of physicality, to move through light and color.

Surrounded by high, gorgeously colored steel walls, I walk into constantly shifting space, opening and closing, not feeling diminished by the overwhelming size of it all, but enriched instead. My body engages in a relationship with the changing walls, which, in their movement, feel physically alive and in conversation with me.

The surfaces of the rusted steel are varied and lush, full of details that engage the eye.

I also think that Serra's continuing involvement with curved forms, beginning with the Torqued Ellipse of 1998, shown at the MoMA retrospective of his work, has appealed to my sensibility; they are rigorously formal works, yet at the same time are a poetry of grandeur, of light, and of space.


  1. It is interesting to revisit our ideas. Often time and experience temper our original reactions. The role of art is to help us see things in a new way and the first time we see it it is often jarring. Fortunately for those of us who love and view art frequently, we have the opportunity to become aware of things that we missed on the first viewing.

  2. I agree with how our perceptions change but I am still not sure I could walk through the narrow openings. Still a certain level of fear or claustrophobia.

  3. thanks for the comments. It's great to have a new awareness, and Ms. Wis., you can just stay out of those tight spaces and still enjoy the work.
    thanks a million, Julie.