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Minimalists

  • I consider Serra to be one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

    I was personally inspired by him as a child. It blew my mind comprehending the scale and process of his works. Serra has been a large part of my life growing up. Below, I’ll share two of his pieces from my hometown(s): Dallas and Fort Worth.

    He, like so many of his contemporaries, drew upon their own life experience to forge their own path. I mean, Serra himself worked in a steel mill at a very young age. Him and so many other artists cross-pollinated ideas and inspiration with each other. They supplanted the status quo, questioned everything and re-wrote what art meant. They were chasing exaltation, the avant garde artists were simply vibrating.

    Above, a photo from my hometown at The Modern in Fort Worth, Texas. Vortex, Richard Serra. 2002.

    I swear to god, these people were fucking visionaries:

    The years 1957-61 Serra studied at the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Barbara. To support himself, Serra worked part-time at a steel mill, which was to have a strong influence on his later work. The period 1961-64, he studied painting at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture. During his years at Yale the worked and studied with Philip Guston, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Rauschenberg, Nancy Graves (his first wife), Frank Stella, and Chuck Close, among others. Supported by fellowships, he spent time in France, where he spent a great deal of time drawing near a reconstruction of Brancusi’s studio and Italy where he began painting a series of grids in random colors. He later learned that Ellsworth Kelly was painting in a similar style, so Serra abandoned the technique. In 1966 he moved to New York. There he met other future Minimalists and Environmental Artists such as: Eva Hesse, Carl Andre, Donald JuddBruce Nauman, Steve Reich, Robert Smithson, and Michael Snow. In New York, he began making his first sculptures out of rubber-said to have been inspired by the horizontal progression in Jackson Pollock’s painting. In 1968 Richard Serra made his piece titled “Splashing” by throwing molten lead in the corner where the floor meets the wall in the warehouse of the art dealer Leo Castelli.

    You can look up photos from that Pollock-lead splashing exhibition. Pretty wild stuff. Insane? Yes. Groundbreaking? Yes. Later, his quieter, less chaotic works were forged in some of the biggest foundries in the world. He became more focused on scale. His works became more pensive over time, and less reactionary after the 1970s.

    It’s a joy to see how many people participate in the installation process of his pieces. It can take an orchestra of people to bring Serra’s work to our eyes. It’s a miracle these masterworks ever appear in public spaces or museums. I think it’s tremendous.

    Photo taken at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. My Curves Are Not Mad, Richard Serra. 1987

    Richard Serra spoke with the Museum of Modern Art about his works and shed some light on his processes (YouTube link here). Briefly, he gave us a bit of wisdom I cherish deeply within my heart of hearts. Touching and feeling is so important. I would argue, it is paramount to the human condition. Interacting with physical art can be restorative:

    Now, in this century into virtual reality, where everybody reads images through the virtual. That’s one of the big problems that art confronts right now — in fact, probably we all confront — is that the virtual denies tactility.

    It denies your physical presence in relationship to something other than a lighted screen. The nature of art has given way to photographs and images — we receive information through images — that we don’t receive art through our total senses in terms of walking, looking, and experiencing, and touching and feeling. And that’s kind of been lost.

    That’s not to say it’s not going to come back.

    Don’t deny yourself the feeling or grace he granted us. The next time you experience a work by Serra, you better put both your hands on it.

    He will be sorely missed.