Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Serra at Gagosian Gallery (London)

Posted in Reviews by berenicesaliou on February 9, 2009

Wow! is the first comment used usually about Richard Serra’ sculptures. In fact, no matter who and how into arts the viewers are, these four massive metal sculptures literally assault them when they enter into the Gagosian Gallery.
Two huge and red-corrugated pieces like cargo ship bows occupy the space of the main room. Both strangely tilted on a parallel axis, their sizes leave the viewer breathless. Despite the strength which emanates from them, the two sculptures paradoxically seem about to collapse. Inviting the viewer to penetrate into the area their shapes delimits, they are welcoming and scaring at the same time.
The third sculpture in the room looks like a curved black metal wall. But this wall reveals itself to be a narrow and never ending dark corridor in an almost elliptical shape. Once inside, the viewer half anticipates encountering the Minatory and ends up wondering if he will manage to escape from this oppressive and claustrophobic space.
In the second room, there is nothing else but a simple piece of metal displayed horizontally in the middle of the space. But what a piece! It measures an astonishing 10 metres long, 2 metres wide and 10 cm thick that goes beyond the boundaries of reason. Not surprisingly, everyone in the room asks: “How did they get this sculpture in here?”
The question underpins the main concern of the artist. Because “To remove the work is to destroy the work” argued Serra in his defence to the opponents of his “Tilted arc”, finally removed from the Federal Plaza in Washington.

Regarding the specific engagement of Serra on site-specific projects we can assume that he created the sculptures especially for the Gagosian Gallery. The relationship between the sculptures and the space dramatically reinforces the impact of the artworks. The sculptures, which almost touch the ceiling and the walls, absolutely invade the room and the field of the spectator’s vision. They absorb the spectators and leave them with a curious sensation of dizziness. This feeling undoubtedly comes from a matter of scale, because the sculptures do not fit into the room; they are too massive and the space is too tiny. There is something wrong…
In fact, it is this “something wrong” that makes the show a success. Because the sculptures reveal the space whilst the space is simultaneously revealed by the sculptures. With this extremely physical and powerful exhibition, Serra created a dialectical and almost magical process and a very impressive tour de force.

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