serra in paris


There is a general recognition of a ‘late style’ in music and literature – a turn to a vital asperity towards the end of a life of composition à la Beethoven or Yeats – but less so in visual art, at least among prominent Modernists. One exception is Matisse, who, in his late cutouts, returned with gusto to ‘the purity of means’ that marked his early Fauve paintings. With a temporary piece at the Grand Palais in Paris that also combines simplicity and grandeur, Richard Serra anticipates a late style of his own.

Just a year ago a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art charted the rigorous development of Serra’s sculptural language, from a direct engagement with rubber and lead in his early pieces to an elaborate turning of steel plates in his celebrated arcs, ellipses and spirals of the last three decades. An early example of this later idiom, Clara-Clara, first exhibited in a Serra retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1983, has now reappeared on its original site in the Tuileries. (The director of the Pompidou, Alfred Pacquement, curator of that show, is also curator of the two pieces presently in Paris.) Set along the grand axis from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, Clara-Clara consists of two opposed curves of steel, 33 metres long and four metres high, one of which leans towards the central line, the other away. Placed near the place de la Concorde on the esplanade designed by Le Nôtre for Louis XIV, Clara-Clara is baroque in its own manner, playing boldly with the strict geometry of the grand axis. In this way it also initiates the promenade to the new piece at the Grand Palais, which Serra, in an acknowledgment of the ambulatory sociability featured in Impressionist painting as well as the directed movement of the viewer through his own work, has titled Promenade.

more from the LRB here.