Richard Serra was born in San Francisco in 1938. He is a well-known American artist who creates large-scale sculptures for site-specific landscape, urban, and architectural settings. Serra’s sculptures are remarkable for their material quality and study of the viewer-work-site interaction. To be more particular, he used his work to force viewers to interact with the physical aspects of the sculptures and their specific locations.
Serra has been working since the mid-1960s to radicalize and expand the definition of the sculpture, starting with his early explorations with rubber, neon, and lead and continuing with his substantial steel works. Serra avoided using art as a metaphor or symbol, following the example of other minimalists of his generation. Instead, he recommended viewing sculpture as a phenomenological experience of weight, gravity, space, process, and time. Even so, because of their enormous size and solidity, his sculptures continue to evoke a sense of the sublime.
On November 2, 1938, Richard Serra was born in San Francisco, California. His mother encouraged him to draw ever since he was a little child. Around San Francisco, his father was a pipefitter for a shipyard. When he was four years old, Serra recalls going to the shipyard to watch a boat launch. “All the raw material I required is contained in the reservoir of this recollection,” he noted. In the following years, Serra attended the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara from 1957 to 1961, graduating with a BA in English Literature, all the while supporting himself by working in steel mills. He then completed his studies in painting at Yale University in New Haven from 1961 to 1964. He lived in France and Italy while being supported by fellowships before relocating to New York City in 1966.
Serra created his first sculptures in 1966 using unconventional materials including rubber and fiberglass. He created several Splash pieces between 1968 and 1970 in which molten lead was cast or splashed into the seams between the floor and the wall. Using parts (his “props”) built using methods like anchoring a sheet of steel to the wall with a rolled lead pipe and leaning steel sheets against each other in configurations that were held together by gravity alone, Serra’s work expanded in scale. He started making large-scale, site-specific sculptures out of rolled steel plates and curved slabs in 1970.
Richard Serra has held many exhibitions throughout his career. These exhibitions were held not only in the United States of America but also throughout Europe. At the Leo Castelli Warehouse in New York, Serra held his first solo exhibition ever. In 1969, he started creating Prop components, which are supported only by weight and gravity and do not have any joints or other types of attachments. Serra was included in the Nine Young Artists: Theodoron Award in that year’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum exhibition.
In 1968, he made his first of several short films, and he began experimenting with video in the early 1970s. Serra received recognition with solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1986, the Kunsthalle Tübingen in 1978, the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1984, and the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld in 1985. Serra’s work received additional recognition in the 1990s, including a retrospective of his drawings at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize for Sculpture in Duisburg in 1991, and a retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa in Madrid the following year.
Richard Serra remains famous for a sculpture that no longer exists ”Tilted Arc”. Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, a controversial work of public art, was on exhibit in Foley Federal Plaza in Manhattan from 1981 to 1989. It was made of a massive, unfinished plate of rust-covered COR-TEN steel that was 120 feet long and 12 feet high. Supporters saw it as an important work by a well-known artist that transformed the environment and improved the concept of sculpture, but critics focused on its apparent ugliness and saw it as damaging the location.
The sculpture was removed in 1989 as a consequence of a federal lawsuit following a contentious public debate and has never again been on exhibit in a public setting, as per the artist’s desires. At the time, the artist compared the destruction of his sculpture to a death in the family. When asked where the job was, he responded, “The government has it. “They ruined their property, which is theirs.”
Although it is impossible to list all of Serra’s exhibitions and honors, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993. The next year, he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize for a sculpture by the Japan Art Association. He received the Golden Lion for contemporary art at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2000. The Matter of Time (finished 2005) works by Serra were permanently displayed at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) in what reviewers described as a stunningly fitting use of their surroundings.
In addition, he received Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts in 2010, and he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour in 2015. Currently, Richard Serra is an 84-year-old artist who has received numerous major awards and honors, some of which are listed above. His works are also in numerous museums and public collections throughout the world. Serra and his wife Weyergraf-Serra have divided their lives between New York City and the North Fork of Long Island since the early 2010s.
- David Zwirner. (n.d.). Richard Serra – Artworks & Biography. [online] Available at: https://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/richard-serra [Accessed 27 Feb. 2023].
- Gagosian (2018). Richard Serra | Gagosian. [online] Gagosian. Available at: https://gagosian.com/artists/richard-serra/.
- Guggenheim.org. (2019). Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/richard-serra.
- Richard Serra | Biography, Art, & Facts | Britannica. (2019). In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Richard-Serra.
- Solomon, D. (2019). Richard Serra Is Carrying the Weight of the World. The New York Times. [online] 28 Aug. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/arts/design/richard-serra-gagosian-sculpture.html.