Richard Serra (1938-2024)

My remembrance of the late artist Richard Serra, including some of my own photos of his work.

Richard Serra (1938-2024)
The artist at age 66. Portrait by Oliver Mark, used under this Creative Commons license.

Last week, the artist Richard Serra passed away. An abstract artist, he was a master of space, producing monolithic steel sculptures which would redefine their space. I was a big fan of his, because his art drew you in & necessitated participation (in order to take in the full breadth of each piece).

I first encountered Serra at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), which housed (or out-housed) one of his many works called My Curves Are Not Mad. Two arching pieces of metal, I spent many childhood thru adult years traversing the space sandwiched between while it was at the DMA. Nowadays, the sculpture resides in a more-fitting location next door at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

A sculpture garden featuring a Richard Serra work of two curved sheets of weathered steel.
Photo by jpellegen, used under this Creative Commons license.

My next encounter with Serra was also local, this time in Cowtown right after the opening of the brand-new Ft. Worth Modern Art Museum. Gatekeeping the entrance was Vortex, a seven-story kaleidoscope of weather steel that feels otherworldly while you are inside. Here's what it looked like thru my eyes in 2002.

In art school, everyone studies Richard Serra and inevitably learns of Tilted Arc, his most-famous work. Commissioned by the General Services Administration to accent a newly-expanded federal building, it was an immediate lightning rod — and not because it was made of iron! Unlike My Curves Are Not Mad, which invited you to visit its interior, Tilted Arc forced you to explore its boundaries. It bisected a busy open plaza, interfering with humans who just wanted to get to their shitty job as quickly as possible. It lasted just over a decade before public pressure forced its removal.

Black-and-white aerial photograph of Richard Serra's Tilted Arc sculpture in the middle of a NYC plaza.
An aerial view of Tilted Arc, showing its all-consuming volume. Photo from the MOMA publication Richard Serra/Sculpture.

According to Wikipedia, the sculpture remains disassembled, its three massive pieces stored in an anonymous warehouse. Richard Serra was adamant that it never be displayed anywhere else but the Foley Federal Plaza, and demanded such respect that his wishes continue to be followed. Now that he's gone, who knows what will happen with the work.

It's a shame that any piece of art wallows in darkness, outside of the human interaction which gives it reason & purpose. I couldn't find any information about Tilted Arc's warehouse besides that it was GSA-controlled and in Maryland. I was curious about its exact location — and just how much it costs taxpayers to hide it away vs. setting it free. I've submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see if I can shine some sunlight on this situation.

Rest in peace, Richard.