New York

Richard Serra

Blum/Heiman Gallery

When it is successful, Richard Serra’s work has a highly-charged presence that is strangely at odds with his neo-Constructivist, anti-Expressionist ethic. When he fails to achieve that tension, though, his work is merely good-looking, with its devices exposed as the facile tricks of a master cosmetician. Shorn of grace, his sculptures are reduced to being nothing more than public works.

When he first started making his big wall drawings he came close to doing the impossible, because they make sense in relation to his sculpture without being in the suspect class of “sculptors’ drawings.” They are simply drawings, material and process combined in a direct way, providing as direct and uncompromising an effect as possible. One can admire the intelligence which produced them, and feel moved by their presentness, a rare enough combination. So it is all the more disappointing to come across this latest show of drawings, for in an essential way the new work contradicts everything the older drawings stand for. They represent a victory of taste over esthetics.

These drawings are indeed not just drawings, but drawings of something. Massive black shapes loom out of the paper, with a few faint lines etched into the surface serving to delineate edges, and in the process reveal the undeniably representational character of the drawings. They are in fact pictures of Serra’s most recent sculptures—and not just pictures, but expressive pictures, with the look of tortured self-examination. The black Paintstick is vigorously scrubbed into the paper, giving the surfaces a frenzied texture, while the smudges and handprints left on the white areas introduce an element of pathos. The traces of a sensibility are all but lost in the surrender to image-making.

Thomas Lawson