Richard Serra at MoMA

Nicolaus Mills in Dissent:


BEFORE THE MUSEUM of Modern Art’s new building opened in 2004, the late Kirk Varnedoe, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, asked design architect Yoshio Taniguchi to make sure that the museum’s 20,000 square feet of open space on its second floor was reinforced so that it could accommodate large-scale work. The MoMA’s retrospective, “Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years,” which contains over 550 tons of steel sculptures on the second floor alone, shows how prescient Varnedoe was.

Like so many contemporary artists whose work is monumental, Serra’s seems perfect for an outdoor show. Site-specific work by him has thrived in locations as different as Storm King Art Center in upstate New York and North Island, New Zealand. But these days Serra is not out to create sculpture that can be looked at as a visual object. He has instead given himself over to his longstanding concern with relationship between a work of art and the person viewing it. His interest is in the process of seeing, not the process of representation.

In a June interview with Charlie Rose, Serra explained the consequences of his concern. Contrasting experiencing his work with that of viewing traditional sculpture, Serra explained that “you’re the subject matter…You’re in the volume of these pieces, and they either spin you out from one to the other, or make a continuous movement throughout. But the subject matter of that experience is yours. So you’re the content. And that’s a shift. That’s a shift from twentieth-century sculpture.”