HAPPENINGText: Aya Karpinska

Mass, volume, and surface become intensely visceral experiences.

View of installation from fifth-floor terrace cafe

My first experience of Richard Serra’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art was from the fifth-floor terrace cafe, watching cranes lift massive steel plates into the garden. We could see the artist’s balding head as he crouched on the ground, adjusting tape marks that would help guide workers lower the 30-ton metal sheets.

The artist (at far right) speaks to his assistant

Walking among the curves of steel, abstract ideas learned in school long ago such as mass, volume, and surface become intensely visceral experiences. You feel your insides reel when you finally enter the wide open space at the end of a narrow passage. It’s as if you were receiving a lesson in engineering from the art works, and from watching how others react. This is one of the best aspects of the exhibit—seeing people stare, stroll around the perimeter of a piece over and over, muttering: Can it fall?… How does he do that?

Where are we?

The installation inside the museum is superb. Several rooms were prepared especially for Serra’s work; every piece has its own story to tell, without crowding any other one. The earlier pieces from the 1960s will give you an idea of how important material and attention to detail are to the artist’s work—every fraction of an inch counts.

A visitor seems to hug the sculpture as he walks

Check out the exhibit page for a video showing two of Serra’s pieces being installed in the garden.

Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years
Date: June 3rd – September 10th, 2007
Place: MoMA
Address: 11 W. 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019
Tel: +1 212 708 9400

Text: Aya Karpinska
Photos: Carlos J. Gomez

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