Richard Serra (born 2 November 1939) is an American minimalist sculptor and video artist known for working with large scale assemblies of sheet metal. Serra was involved in the Process Art Movement.
Serra was born in San Francisco and he went on to study English literature at the University of California, Berkeley and later at the University of California, Santa Barbara between 1957 and 1961. He then studied fine art at Yale University between 1961 and 1964. While on the west coast, he helped support himself by working in steel mills which was to have a strong influence on his later work.
He is the brother of famed San Francisco trial attorney Tony Serra. Serra lives outside of New York and in Nova Scotia.
Serra's earliest work was abstract and process-based made from molten lead hurled in large splashes against the wall of a studio or exhibition space. Still, he is better known for his minimalist constructions from large rolls and sheets of metal (COR-TEN-Steel). Many of these pieces are self-supporting and emphasise the weight and nature of the materials. Rolls of lead are designed to sag over time. His exterior steel sculptures go through an initial oxidation process, but after 8-10 years, the patina of the steel settles to one color that will remain relatively stable over the piece's life. Serra often constructs site-specific installations, frequently on a scale that dwarfs the observer.
In 1981, Serra installed Tilted Arc, a gently curved, 3.5 metre high arc of rusting mild steel in the Federal Plaza in New York City. There was controversy over the installation from day one, largely from workers in the buildings surrounding the plaza who complained that the steel wall obstructed passage through the plaza. A public hearing in 1985 voted that the work should be moved, but Serra argued the sculpture was site specific and could not be placed anywhere else. Serra famously issued an often-quoted statement regarding the nature of site-specific art when he said, "To remove the work is to destroy it." Eventually on 15 March 1989, the sculpture was dismantled by federal workers and taken for scrap. William Gaddis satirized these events in his biting 1994 novel A Frolic of His Own.
Another famous work of Serra's is the mammoth sculpture Snake, a trio of sinuous steel sheets creating a curving path, permanently located in the largest gallery of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In 2005, the museum mounted an exhibition of more of Serra's work.
He has not always fared so well in Spain, however; also in 2005, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid announced that a 38-tonne sculpture of his had been "mislaid." (BBC)
In spring 2005, Serra returned to San Francisco to install his first public work in that city (previous negotiations for a commission fell through) - two 50 foot steel blades in the main open space of the new University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) campus. Weighing 160 tons, placing the work in its Mission Bay location posed serious challenges as it is, like many parts of San Francisco, built on landfill. In 2000 he installed 'Charlie Brown,' a 60-foot tall sculpture in the new Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco. To encourage oxidation, or rust, sprinkers were initially directed toward the four German-made slabs of steel that make up the work.
At the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Serra showed a simple litho crayon drawing of an Abu Ghraib prisoner with the caption "STOP BUSH." This image was later used by the Whitney Museum to make posters for the Biennial. The posters featured an altered version of the text that read "STOP B S ."
In the summer of 2007 the Museum of Modern Art presented a retrospective of Serra's work in New York. Intersection II (1992-1993) and Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) were included in this show along with three new works.
Work similar to that of his in the Netherlands (pictured) can be found in Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York.
Colby College recently acquired 150 works on paper by Serra, making it the second largest collection of Serra's work outside of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In Boomerang (1974), Serra taped Nancy Holt as she talks and hears her words played back to her after they have been delayed electronically.
Serra has made a number of films concerning the manufacture and use of his favourite material, steel. Steelworks is shot inside a German steelworks and includes an interview with a steelworker, while Railroad Turnbridge is a series of shots taken on the Burlington and Northern bridge over the Williamette river near Portland, Oregon, as it opens to let a ship pass. These films can be viewed in a room off the Arcelor gallery in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.
Serra plays Hiram Abiff ("the architect") in Matthew Barney's 2002 film Cremaster 3 and is in the DVD edit called "The Order."
Serra was one of the four performers in the premiere of the Steve Reich piece Pendulum Music on May 27th 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The other performers were Michael Snow, James Tenney and Bruce Nauman.