December 12, 2013

Serra's Seductive Surfaces

It seems strange that cold, hard steel, industrially utilitarian, can also have a sensuous richness of surface, but Richard Serra's monumental sculpture achieves that quality: austere, yet lushly beautiful. The exhibition currently at Gagosian Gallery on 24th St consists of four pieces made up of thick plates of weatherproofed steel. The gallery website at the link has minimal information on the work, but it does have a walk through video, and one for the show on 21st St, which I was sorry to have missed. When confronted with these enormous flat plates, I could not help but be engaged with their surfaces, so present and so gorgeous. Looking at the variations of color and depth on the piece above, it seemed as though the sculptor was carefully carving a low relief, one that had air and light at its top and earthy weight below.

I was especially fascinated by the colors and texture of the ends of the slabs; each was different, as though each was evoking a different landscape. I wish I knew more about the process of fabrication of these works; I imagine much of the surface comes about through the responses of the steel to its manipulation, but how much can be controlled?

A geometric shape emerges amid fluid marks.

This is a partial view of Intervals, made up of 24 plates of varying sizes. If you click to enlarge the image, you will see some of the variation in their surfaces.

I took the two photos above at a Serra show two years ago, which I wrote about here. The two works on view, Junction and Cycle, were the rich reddish browns that I now associate with his curved pieces.

These new grayish works do not have that uncanny shifting space in the walk-through torqued ellipses, but the solid reality of their flat planes asks for a direct response, both physical and visual. In Serra's new pieces the visual demands more attention of us than I've seen it ask before.


  1. This is such a provocative topic. I am drawn to Serra's work on many levels, and the subtleties of the surfaces are so much a part of the experience. They are so painterly, sensuous and seductive. You can spend hours at Dia experiencing those macro structures in micro.

    1. Deborah, it's been a while since I was a Dia, but I remember loving the natural light flowing from above and one side on the Serra sculpture. The light gave them a beautiful sense of volume in space that I've never seen in a NYC gallery.