As one of the most widely acclaimed artists working in the Post-Minimalist vein today, Serra is revered for his self-referential art that revels in its own object-hood, and for his devotion to process as the key element in his art-making. Serra’s works, such as his monumental steel sculptures, invariably leave their materials exposed and hint at the laborious methods of their creation. Refraining from referencing anything outside of the works themselves, Serra asserts that the beauty of his pieces derives from the viewer’s experience of the work in the space.
For Serra 2013, the artist has taken a catalogue from his 2013 exhibition of sculptures at Gagosian Gallery and blackened out the title page with thick, encrusted coats of charcoal. Rich, dark and matte, the charcoal has been applied heavily to the page in swift even strokes, creating a textured surface that builds to a rough impasto at the edges of the paper where the charcoal residue has gathered. For Serra, black is not a color but a material with weight, and he uses it consistently in his drawings to convey a sense of gravity similar to his sculptures. In fact, weight figures prominently in all of Serra’s work, both in a literal sense for his large sculptures and in a metaphorical sense for the messages of universal meaning that he wants to convey. As he wrote in a 1988 essay, “Everything we choose in life for its lightness soon reveals its unbearable weight. We face the fear of unbearable weight….The residue of history: the printed page, the flicker of the image, always fragmentary, always saying something less than the weight of experience” (R. Serra, quoted in A. and D. Lefferts, Richard Serra 2013, New York, 2014, p. 14).
As a drawing, Serra 2013 can be evaluated as existing within a similar set of concerns as Serra’s other works in that medium. Drawing is a highly personal activity for Serra—one in which he can explore creative forms in absolute solitude and pure concentration—and each mark carries a specific intention and structures its surrounding space in the same way as his sculptures. Dark and weighty, Serra’s drawings are intended to provoke a physical reaction in the viewer with their imposing presence. Free of gesture, representation and art historical reference, drawings such as Serra 2013 thus stand as part of Serra’s radical investigations into how to make something completely new in the face of history, by exploring the boundaries of an art that relies on material and process alone.
Richard Serra (b. 1939), Serra 2013. Oilstick on printed book 11 1/4 x 9 3/4 x in. Published in and executed in 2014.