Sunday, October 28, 2007

Richard Serra in conversation

Richard Serra at Penn

Pardon the blurry shot but that's all I could get without using the flash on my camera during the talk with Serra and curator, Lynne Cooke last Thursday evening at the University of Pennsylvania. Cook co-curated Richard Serra Sculpture: Fourty Years.

The talk lasted for about an hour and-a-half, with Serra doing most of the talking and Cooke not really asking great questions. The thing about Serra that's impressive is how direct and engaging he is with his language as he is with his work. I really wish Cooke was a bit more engaging with her questions. For the most part, familiar ground was covered in terms of his development as an artist living and working in New York and Europe in the late 60's-early 70's. It was enlightening to find out that Leo Castelli bankrolled Serra's work for three years, even when Serra didn't sell anything. One of those stories that the stuff of myths are made of. I doubt there are many art dealers in the world who are willing to give young artists that kind of support any more.

It was interesting to find out that Serra had a part in the design of the renovation of MoMA. In order to accomodate the three newest sculptures in the retrospective exhibition, which closed in September, a portion of an outside wall had to be made into a door thorough which the plates that made up the works were brought into the museum on the second floor. Serra was asked how big the door needed to be. According to Serra, he said, "About 40 feet wide and 13 feet high" and so it was done. That's a lot of pull.

The question-and-answer session was a bit of fun. One guy asked Serra if the size of a lot of his work was related to his relatively small physical stature and a possible 'Napoleon complex', which Serra denied. Another question came from a student who asked what qualifications would Serra look for in a possible apprentice. The answer to this intrigued me since I've wondered how he managed to keep all of his projects going and how many people might be helping him. Serra said that he only has four people in his circle. Including himself, his wife, an office manager and another assistant.

Someone else had a comment about how the controversy surrounding Tilted Arc may have affected Serra's other work at the time; if Serra saw this as a "low point" from which his newer, "more refined" work came out of. Serra debunked this notion quickly by saying that he never stopped working during that time and that Tilted Arc was probably the "most refined piece" he's ever made.

With that, it was all over.
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