It very rare for Richard Serra
man of steel, to sculpt in error.
The shapes that he creates evoke
dunes, canyons and ravines. Baroque
the influence of all these curves.
Perhaps Borromini deserves
some credit for the inspiration
for their expressive undulation,
although, ingratiating, lavish,
his expertise inclines to ravish
as, torquing torus with inversion,
with parasexual perversion
it transforms alchemistically steel
into raw spaces where you feel
the presence of a dying numen
within the crevasse of the lumen
where people walk and need not climb
to sense a terror that’s sublime.
Michael Kimmelman reviews a retrospective exhibition of Richard Serra of sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “Man of Steel, ” NYT, June 1,2007) :
That second floor at the Modern, by the way, is the show’s tour de force. A high, huge and like so much of this museum, totally unlovable space, it was conceived for housing Mr. Serra’s sculptures. Kirk Varnedoe, the Modern curator, came up with this idea, and the museum saw his plan through after his death. The resulting space is antiseptic, unfortunately, and too much of a barn for showing anything else, but it looks fantastic now. At one end is “Band, ” a 70-foot-long steel undulation, absent an inside or outside, forming four cavities. On the other end is “Sequence, ” which links two immense spirals. In between is “Torqued Torus Inversion, ” a pair of mirrored enclosures whose forms Mr. Serra has said may partly relate to his fondness for curvy Chinese bronzes…
These shapes and experiences are new. That’s about the best, and the rarest, compliment you can give to any artist. Mr. Serra’s “Torqued Ellipses” and “Torqued Toruses” and other recent works like “Band” and “Sequence” have their origins in work he did 40 years ago in rubber and lead, as this retrospective handsomely affirms, but these are nonetheless unprecedented variations on the theme of dumbfounding spirals and loops. The public’s perception of Mr. Serra’s work has also obviously changed from the bad days of “Tilted Arc, ” a quarter-century or so ago. That same vocabulary of curved, giant metal walls, once vilified as art-world arrogance, is now better understood and broadly admired. This is how radical art operates. In Mr. Serra’s case you can also call it democratic art because it sticks to pure form that requires no previous expertise to grasp. There’s no coy narrative, no insider joke or historical allusion or meta-art theme. There’s none of what Mr. Serra disdainfully calls, in the show’s catalog, “post-Pop Surrealism, ” by which he lumps together all contemporary art that leans for a crutch on language and Duchamp. In that catalog interview he was talking with Kynaston McShine, one of the show’s two curators. (The other is Lynne Cooke.) Mr. Serra famously looked at Borromini churches in Rome before he started torquing steel, but his work is not “about” Baroque architecture any more than it’s about Jackson Pollock or Barnett Newman or Donald Judd, whom he also looked at and learned from early on. The art is about the basic stuff of sculpture, isolated and recast: mass, weight, volume, material. What matters in the end are your own reactions while moving through the sculptures, at a given moment, the works being Rorschachs of indeterminate meaning….
A filmmaker I met in Bilbao, Spain, wandering through Mr. Serra’s sculptures there, likened the experience to movies. He thought the paths Mr. Serra devised within the works, between curving walls of steel, which suddenly jog, then arrive, unexpectedly, at cavities or enclosures, were like plot twists with surprise endings. Except there are no beginnings or endings in the sculptures. A novelist who has written about the Holocaust said the high, curving steel walls leaned over him threateningly, leading him until he became disoriented and lost, into what he felt were penned-in spaces, bringing to mind a concentration camp. The art scared him, he said, but he also loved it. Kant called this feeling “the terrifying sublime, ” which is “accompanied by a certain dread or melancholy.” Awe and fear mingle with pleasure. The concept was applied to mountain climbing, and Mr. Serra’s new works on the museum’s second floor, perhaps not coincidentally, evoke canyons, dunes, crevasses and ravines. The industrial steel walls, in uncalculated rusty orange and velvety brown, evoke natural terrains; the spaces through which the sculptures move people are akin to spaces in nature.
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