SERRA, RICHARD (1939– ), U.S. sculptor and draftsman. San Francisco-born Serra studied from 1957 to 1961 at the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Barbara, after which he received a B.S. in English literature. At Yale University (1961–64), where he worked with Josef Albers, Serra earned a B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. His art of the late 1960s emphasized temporality, process, and site specificity, the latter of which has been a continuing value in Serra's art. For Splashing (1968), for example, Serra threw molten lead into the angle where the floor and wall meet in a room. The hardened, splattered result recalls paintings by Jackson Pollock, but unlike Pollock's canvases, Serra's work is ephemeral. During this time Serra also experimented with various industrial materials, such as rubber and fiberglass, in non-narrative works designed for interior spaces. Through the late 1960s, Serra explored the effects of gravity on heavy, temporarily installed, abstract sculpture, and on the viewer's confrontation with the weighty, unsecured piece. Two hundred tons of metal, stacked 20-feet high, loomed perilously over the viewer surveying Stacked Steel Slabs (Skullcracker Series) (1969, Fontana, California, destroyed). In the early 1970s, Serra began making canvas drawings of his sculptures after they had been conceived.
Several sculptures from the early 1980s are enormous, minimalist and geometric in form, and at times controversial. The public sculpture Tilted Arc (1981) was made on commission from the United States General Services Administration for New York City's Federal Plaza. Many viewed the 12-foot-tall, 120-foot-long curved, tilted plate of Cor-ten steel as threatening in conception, divisive of pedestrian space, and constrictive of the Plaza's view. After a federal court case during which Serra argued that moving the sculpture would be a violation of his contract and would destroy the site-specificity of the piece, the sculpture was removed in 1989.
From the 1980s Serra worked on several sculptures related to Holocaust remembrance. Installed next to the Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin Junction (1987) memorializes those who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. Gravity (1993), a 10-inch-thick, 10-foot-square standing slab of Cor-ten steel, was made on commission for the Hall of Witnesses at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In 1987 Serra installed an outdoor sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Serra was honored with his first American retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1986.
R.E. Krauss, Richard Serra: Sculpture (1986); E. Güse (ed.), Richard Serra (1988); R. Serra, Writings, Interviews (1994); H. Foster (ed.), Richard Serra (2000).
[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]