Richard Serra

Christian Stein Gallery

The first and most direct feeling elicited by this Richard Serra exhibition was tranquillity, as though the new, rigorous space of the gallery did not allow the sculptures the possibility of aggression. Serra designed the installation to integrate harmoniously with the internal architectural structure. Thus the observer was able to avoid the shock (a reaction to hyperenergy) that installations by the American artist typically evoke, and enter the narrative “plot” of the structures.

La Savio, completed in 1985, was placed in one corner of the gallery. Its spare vertical forms are defined by the artist’s skillful use of light. The discrete elevation of The Dead Egyptian (from Torino), 1985, in the opposite corner of the gallery, recalls one’s experience of some Japanese art; its mass of iron, an exceedingly heavy material, lightens into a mystical and symbolic abstraction. The frontal view of the work actually negates mass and weight. In this way Serra approaches the accomplishments of Constantin Brancusi, who was able to conceive of a volume as a single line.

The third work, Pasolini, 1985, was located approximately at the center of the gallery. Composed of two monumental blocks of iron, it is an aggressive piece which stimulates the dynamism between sculpture and observer in its seeming replication of the viewer’s movements, and between sculpture and space in its contrast of closed mass and open space. Whereas La Savio and The Dead Egyptian have a more decorative dimension, Pasolini exists in a hardened industrial and ideological context (the dedication/title is not casual). In renouncing the subtle fascination of the objective symbol, it reacquires the energy of art brut, of antiarchitecture, and assumes a political connotation that cannot help but recall the sad turn of events around Serra’s Tilted Arc, 1981, in New York City.

Finally, on the balcony of the gallery, one came across three drawings in black oil stick. The rigorous symmetry of the paper notwithstanding, these works wrenched the observer with intense emotion—at that point an unexpected short circuit. Serra manages to educe a sense of agonizing vertigo through nonillusionistic art that offers itself as simple material or found object, nude and sublime.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.