Monday, August 6, 2007

art: Serra sublime fun-house

Had to go, so I went. It was much as I expected, that is to say fantastic. Wandering around and inside Richard Serra's latest curved steel sculptures, Band and Sequence, was childlike joy, wonderful wonderment. And wondering: Is there an algorithm to the curves? As the walls lean in and out there must be a vertical spot, why can't I find it? Have I returned to the start? How can the expression of simple ideas create so much beauty?

As I said, Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker describes it better than I can (also Jerry Salz in New York magazine). However, what made me literally weak in the knees was Serra's restraint. Coming from such an utterly uncompromising, arrogant, art-star dickhead, these late works aren't what you expect:
  • The steel isn't a harsh hulking black, but a soft clay-like rust color.
  • They're huuuuge, but not oppressive: double-height steel walls cocoon you within the vast museum room.
  • You're pleasingly disoriented, but never lost and abandoned.
  • The shifting points and angles and triangles that the walls form as you move around are intense beyond words, but unlike his earlier works like Circuit II where you feel one control switch away from being crushed, they don't menace.
I can't imagine Serra copping to being a softie, but he could have gone for shock and awe, and didn't. To have so much intent and effort and mass and steel and fabrication directed to deliver bracing aesthetic pleasure makes you giddy with delight; to be an adult and aware of that gentle restraint making "all this useless beauty" in a world of difficulties is somehow sad. I didn't want to leave.

I skipped the catalog and the postcards. The photographs are black and white, but again the late works are a soft orange rust, not hulking black. The photographs are from above, but Serra has said he's not making architecture and he doesn't want you to see a diagrammatic plan view. He doesn't want you to "read" the form of the work from pictures, you have to walk around and inside them. The exhibition closes September 10th. If you can get to New York, go!



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