Richard Serra, Gagosian Gallery, LondonPosted: February 23, 2015
Before attending this exhibition, my preconceived opinion of Serra was that he reflected a concept of self-awareness. By juxtaposing site-specific minimalist sculptures of heterogeneous material to draw perceptual attention to it’s relationship with it’s surroundings, Serra heightens the viewers self-awareness accordingly. Although in an article in the Gagosian magazine (2015) he claims that he doesn’t intend to force meaning onto anyone, I have also read about his motive to have his sculptures read via it’s site, further implying his emphasis on an object or subjects interrelationship with it’s environment.
This idea is emphasized by his timeless East-West/West-East piece, consisting of four metal plates, arranged in a dramatic desert of the Middle East and spanning more than a kilometer long. In the previously mentioned article in the Gagosian gallery (2015), Serra believes that the desert is a place where one would considers their own existence because of the solitary value of that environment, but to use this site was not his original idea. Serra was asked by the Qatar Museum Authority to contemplate this environment and on further inspection he agreed. I would assume this being because of the internally reflective nature that he discovered of the desert. Both ends of the quadruplet of metal plates can be seen from the other; Serra found that people were generous in the way they felt from their experience and all walked from one end to the other, and back again. He speaks of the space being collected by the piece in the article: the piece makes a place within the space. This could suggest that the predetermined, solitude-orientated nature of the space that he speaks of is then accentuated by provoking the viewers to notice the desert for that by presenting large and significantly heavy sculptures, that their surroundings can be contrasted to.
At the Gagosian gallery where Serra is currently displaying some work, I really connected to this idea of a material object enforcing self-awareness and the non-physicality of my consciousness. The exhibition consisted of Backdoor Pipeline, Ramble, Dead Load and London Cross.
Firstly, Backdoor Pipeline struck me because of it’s size (depicted in the image) but also because of the way any sound reverberated unusually along the material surface: stood at one end of the almighty steal vessel, the conversation at the other end – a good 30+ feet away – is as clear as though occurring next to you. The piece feels primeval yet simple which was seemingly very endearing to me. Wandering through the structure enveloped and embodied me; the curve of the tunnel altered your perception of how long you would be travelling through, and allowed the opening at the other end to be abrupt and almost relieving because of the slight tension projected. This is where I felt extremely aware of my position within this site because my senses were contrasted very quickly, heightening them and presenting myself with the capacity of them.
Ramble was the piece I then observed. I noticed there was a similar mathematical poetry to Ramble that there was of Backdoor Pipeline, although Ramble offered a labyrinth in which I struggled to solve physically but could imagine mentally. The material aspect of Serra’s work, particularly Ramble, is it’s most significant element in my opinion and if I were to appropriate. With the intention to heighten the viewers self awareness in mind, the daunting weight of the sculptures emphasizes it’s physicality in the space. This accordingly created a sense of compare for me whilst I was contemplative of the conscious minds immateriality; I believe that Serra is wondrously successful because he creates a strong physical environment that you cannot overlook and by means of contrast, illuminates your own being.
I felt that Dead Load occupied this concept as well. This piece consists of a large steel block on top of a slightly smaller steel block. Upon moving observation, the surface has character and appears alive because it reflects, producing a rich, textured vision. Again, the material is majestic and considerably abundant, achieving the sense of self-awareness; but Dead Load also made me consider it’s own immaterial potential because of the reflective, textured, charismatic surface.
I understand Serra’s interest in not forcing any specific meaning onto the artworks audience because it is possible to have a personal and emotional response to the work by naturally suggesting the existence of oneself. That being a subjective experience eradicates any necessity to assert or request definitive response.