Richard Serra

Jardin Des Tuileries

On the occasion of the Richard Serra retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, the Ministry of Culture installed a large Serra sculpture in the Jardin des Tuileries. Originally intended for the museum’s Forum, this vast double-arced work is 120 feet long by 12 feet high; in its current, temporary location it conforms to the category of sculpture that Robert Irwin has described as “site-adjusted” rather than “site-specific.” Clara-Clara, 1982–83, is placed at the Place de la Concorde entrance to the site so as to repeat and articulate the axial coordinates of its confines. Positioned between two curving walkways, it is bordered laterally by the Jeu de Paume and the Orangerie, and frontally by the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries’ hexagonal pool. Its vehicular line connects up, on the north side, with the obelisk of the Place and on the south with the long allée of trees leading toward the Arc du Carousel. In this manner, it makes reference to the central axial coordinates, and monuments, of its site—as of Paris at large—as well as to the general trajectory of pedestrian and vehicular motion.

Clara-Clara’s importance may lie in the paradoxical subtlety of its confrontations, which oppose it to many more aggressive, and less successful, Serra works. With their weathering, orange-rusted steel, the two arcs, seemingly cut from a sectioned cone, form a lumbering, somewhat awkward structure played against the formal geometry of park and surround. The two curves have been inverted in relation to each other and placed so that they lean in the same direction. The 6-foot breach between their midpoints telescopes interior space, inviting the viewer’s entry as if into a walkway, but the equivocal readings imposed by the slanting surfaces impel conundrums detached from the formal clarity of the environment. Since the opposed arcs are derived from different sections of the cone, their shape shifts according to the angle of the mobile viewer; this sensation, by which one curve appears to “move” faster than the other, increases as one approaches the narrow midpoint, only to reverse to the other curve as one reaches the center. The conflict between superficially similar structures works to dynamize the relation between sculpture and viewer, as between sculpture and encompassing space; likewise, it interjects a note of tension into the park’s composed equilibrium, its “classical” stasis. It contrasts a range of perceptual activity—of bodily motion and consequent sensuous alteration—to the passive consumption of nuances.

Clara-Clara represents a curious, and intricate, amalgam of imposing scale, ponderous presence, and the elegance of economical form. Its size, unrelieved surfaces, and perceptual strategies offer an odd intervention into French sculptural terrain, long dominated by free-standing objects with reticulated structures, by baubles and bibelots abundant. The difficulty of that intervention is evident from the neglect accorded Serra, who has exhibited only rarely in France, and whose outdoor commission for the Centre Pompidou was blocked. Hopefully that situation will be remedied by his proposed sculpture for the site of La Défense, scheduled for completion in 1984; in the meantime, Clara-Clara affords a salutary introduction to the territory.

Kate Linker