Richard Serra at the Gagosian gallery

Richard Serra is an American sculptor who is known for his massive steel sculpture installations that include the viewer and the location as part of his final sculpture or "experience." He was born in San Francisco, California in 1939. He attended college at the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Barbara; he graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. He began working in steel mills as a means of supporting himself. Serra continued his studies at Yale University and graduated with both a BFA and MFA in 1964. He was able to spend time in Paris and Florence after receiving a Yale Traveling Fellowship and a Fullbright grant. Serra began creating with what he was familiar with, steel. From these minimalistic beginnings he has taken to exploring the relationship between the artwork, the site, and the viewer. No matter where the site is located, whether it is outdoors or inside a gallery, Serra’s main focus is the experience that his large scale steel statues create for the viewer.

Tony Godfrey accurately describes Serra’s work in his review for The Burlington Magazine when he says, “It is an exceptionally sensuous sculpture, and to walk along and between the conical curves eliding into one another was an exhilarating experience, partly because of the implied danger of those overhanging, twenty-ton walls, but mainly from the sheer grace of their placement.”[1] Many of Serra's sculptures deal with this idea of the use of space and it's effect on the viewers. He wants you to have an "experience" where you can feel the changes in the atmosphere around the different curved pieces of steel. Serra describes his style of art when he says "I consider space to be my medium. The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct."[2] This idea can be seen and felt in his work such has Open Ended (seen below) displayed at the Gagosian Gallery in London (exhibited til December 20, 2008). From this photo you can get a feel of the weighted space, almost collapsing onto the viewer, yet there is beauty in the curves of steel. Many of Serra's installations carry this same theme of wanting the viewer to actually interact with the sculpture, not to simply view it but to feel it.

Open Ended 2007-08, Gagosian Gallery
Open Ended 2007-08, Gagosian Gallery

The above video discusses some of Serra's work that was displayed at MoMA in 2007, covering forty years of his sculptures. Band is the particular sculpture described in this video and was obviously a new concept of the use of space for Serra at the time. Throughout Serra's career he has taken steps to prepare for each sculpture by making drawings, models, and researching the locations for the sculptures in order to create this experience for the viewer. In his most recent exhibitions he is putting some of those preparatory drawings on show along with several installation drawings. This exhibition titled "Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective" will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from April 13 – August 28, 2011. This is a completely different side of Serra than what the public is used to seeing; this exhibition will contain 60 works done over a forty-year career. Serra himself seems concerned, almost humble, about how the show will be received; "I'm not known for my drawings," he says. "For many people, it's going to be an aside; for others, though, it might be an eye-opener. The retrospective will show a broad range of work. I am trying to take drawing in an unconventional direction in terms of place, size, and process," the 71-year-old artist explains.[3] His drawings are created with similar weight to his sculptures and most are on a large scale, becoming sculpture-like themselves. To create this weight he used black ink, charcoal, lithographic crayon, and paint stick. By working only in black he gives his drawings density and weight and turns them into one dimensional sculptures. By using only stark black with in an all white space the drawings command the attention of the viewer, forcing them to engage with the artwork. Even within this new medium, Serra's is still linking himself to his sculpture and his goal is still the same—to create an experience for the viewer and to alter the space of the room in which his art is displayed.

Richard Serra (American, b. 1939) out-of-round X, 1999
Richard Serra (American, b. 1939) September, 2001
Richard Serra (American, b. 1939) Notebook: Double Torqued Ellipses, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, 2005
Viewer experiencing Serra's latest work.

(Laine McKenzie)

Bibliography (Richard Serra)Baker, George, Rosler, Martha, Serra, Richard, Kentridge, William, Byrne, Gerald, Robbins, Andrea, Becher, Max, Dean, Tacita, Burr, Tom, Huyghe, Pierre, Kolbowski, Silvia, Barry, Judith, Gordon, Douglas, Roberts, Liisa, Buckingham, Matthew, Koester, Joachim, Davenport, Nancy, Norman, Nils, Müller, Christian Philipp, Green, Renée, Durham, Jimmie, Camnitzer, Luis, Burch, Noël, Sekula, Allan and Leonard, Zoe, "Artist Questionnaire: 21 Responses," October 100, (2002) 6-97Godfrey, Tony, Review of "Richard Serra. London and Dusseldor", The Burlington Magazine, 135, 1079, (Feb. 1993): 160-1MacAdam, Barbara A., "Pushing the Boundaries of Drawing," accessed April 1, 2011,"Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective," accessed April 24, 2011,{2C49726E-A17C-428D-A97C-60552A47D829}“Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, June 3 - September 10th, 2007,” accessed April 2, 2011,, Richard, Richard Serra: Sculpture, 1985-1998, Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art; Gottigen, Germany: Steidl, 1998"Sleeping Giants: Richard Serra at the Gagosian gallery," accessed April 15, 2011,
  1. ^
    Tony Godfrey, Review of "Richard Serra. London and Dusseldor," The Burlington Magazine, 135, 1079, (Feb. 1993): 160
  2. ^ Baker, George et al., "Artist Questionnaire: 21 Responses," October 100, (2002) 14-15.
  3. ^
    Barbara A. MacAdam, "Pushing the Boundaries of Drawing," accessed April 1, 2011,