Richard Serra - Contemporary Art Part I New York Sunday, November 6, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Akira Ikeda Gallery, Japan
    Private collection, Japan

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Akira Ikeda Gallery, Richard Serra, June 6 – July 30, 1983, September 17 – October 26, 1985

  • Literature

    Akira Ikeda Gallery, Richard Serra, Tokyo, 1986, pl. 11 (illustrated)
    Verlag Gerd Hatje, Richard Serra, Stuttgart, 1987, pl. 114 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I think that sculpture, if it has any potential at all, has the potential to create its own place and space, and to work in contradiction to the places and spaces where it is created. RICHARD SERRA

    (Richard Serra, 1984, taken from “Extended Notes from Sight Point Road”, Richard Serra: Writings Interviews, Chicago, 1994, p. 169)

    In his revolutionary practice of and writings on sculpture, architecture, and drawing, Richard Serra has reshaped ideas about structural aesthetics and meaning for over forty years. Palms, 1985, in its imposing façade and industrial boldness, gives us a unique statement about many of the historical assumptions regarding sculpture that Serra has helped to rethink. Among these, Serra makes the quest of the sculptor not a vain journey to glorify the human form or disguise the structural nature of his medium, but rather to join the perspective of the viewer to the purpose of the piece: “In all my work the construction process is revealed. Material, formal, contextual decisions are self-evident. The fact that technological process is revealed depersonalizes and demythologizes the idealization of the sculptor’s craft. The work does not enter the fictitious realm of the “master.” I would just as soon have the work available to anyone’s inspection. That evidence can become part of the content” (Richard Serra, 1984, Richard Serra: Writings Interviews, Chicago, 1994, p. 169).

    Since his revolutionary Prop pieces of the 1960s, Serra has continued to break the mold of the sculptor who conforms to Classical notions of beauty. In his famous “list of verbs” from the latter part of that decade, Serra showed his proclivity for active sculpture; he desired to take into account the possibilities of materials involved, and whether they can break, bend, grind or interact in any natural fashion. Through emphasizing the capabilities of a structural medium rather than its limitations, Serra has developed a new formal language for a new era of sculptural aesthetics. By shaping and pushing lead (and later, as in the present lot, Cor-ten steel) into provocative assemblies, Serra further showed that the completion of a work occurs not with the final polish, but with the viewer’s interaction with the work.

    Furthermore, Serra has shown that the most profound sculpture is that which also shapes the space that contains it. Aside from its abilities to cast shadows or create light, a sculpture can function in direct contrast to its surroundings, transforming an ordinary warehouse or courtyard into a space that captivates a viewer and invites both public reflection and private introspection.

    Serra ascertained that it is not a confluence of new forms or complex structures that lends a work artistic exclusivity, but a profoundly simple interpretation by the viewer: “I think in any work of art, whether one’s dealing with volume, line, plane, mass, space, color, or balance, it’s how one chooses to focus on either one of these aspects that gives the work a particular resonance and differentiates it from other people’s work”-Richard Serra, 1992, taken from an interview with Patricia Bickers (Richard Serra: Writings Interviews, Chicago, 1994, p. 265).

    Palms, 1985, comprised of two massive Cor-ten steel plates, stands nearly twelve feet in height, its industrial prowess rising above the viewer. Neither of the two plates have been either polished or painted in order to make them superficially appealing, and they stand uncompromising in their revelation of the Cor-ten steel’s naturally rough and varied texture. Connected via a single line of balance, each plate supports the pressure of the other, eliminating the possibility of toppling. On the concave side, the plates open as a book, or, as the title suggests, the palms of a mechanical giant, pushed side to side. In perspective, the plates seem to differ in size and shape; we see the plate on the convex right of the work slope downward at its side to receive the oversized edge of the adjoining plate on its corner. But this unequal appearance is, in the end, only illusion, as the plates share identical dimensions and thickness. At first sight, the arrangement of the two parallelograms—with a sloping corner the only point of contact—lends the work a slightly uneasy appearance, as if the organization of the plates makes standing at the base less an act of exploration and more a feat of daring.

    But it is this sense of vulnerability that Serra strives for in Palms, 1985. The excellence of the plates’ positioning, compounded with the medium’s great ability to absorb the weight of each respective plate, conjures a serene sense of awe in the viewer. In this way, balance itself becomes a thing of beauty: “Balance indeed belongs among the categorical criteria of a sculpture; it is an aesthetic value” (C. Weyergraf. “From ‘Trough Pieces’ to ‘Terminal’: Study of a Development”, Richard Serra, Stuttgart, p. 212). While, historically, sculptures may be extolled for their sublime depictions of human form and drama, here, Serra exhibits a phenomenon far more visceral: the form and drama of material itself.

    As the observer takes in the magnitude of sculptural achievement, his “sensed uncertainty demands reassurance, a rational coming-to-terms with its origin” (C. Weyergraf. “From ‘Trough Pieces’ to ‘Terminal’: Study of a Development”, Richard Serra, Stuttgart, p. 212). This is when the present lot commands its greatest material and intellectual achievement, for, as the viewer explores the nature of his own uncertainty, he realizes his perpetual reliance on balance; as he moves through life, he is indebted to all of the structural perfection—highrises, skyscrapers, desk chairs—that maintains its own balance. In the end, Serra inspires both awareness and reflection in the viewer, a temporal experience with perennial afterthoughts.

    Through eliminating any imprints of the artist’s hand in the Palms, 1985, Richard Serra replaces the question of figure and refinement in sculpture with the concerns of the material and its potential. As we see in the present lot, sculpture has the ability to transform the space around it and to redefine our surroundings; the result is a space of the viewer’s interaction and involvement, where our active participation can yield discoveries in both our monuments and ourselves.

  • Artist Biography

    Richard Serra

    American • 1938

    Richard Serra is an American artist commonly associated with Minimalism and the Process Art movement. Though perhaps best known for his monumental works made from industrial steel, Serra has also worked extensively in painting and printmaking. After attending the University of California, Berkeley, he earned his MFA from Yale, where he became friends and collaborators with classmates such as Frank Stella, Chuck Close and Nancy Graves, to whom Serra was married for five years. Later working in New York, Serra was inspired by Minimalist contemporaries such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, who valued the work of creation more than the finished artwork itself.

    Serra’s work is installed permanently at the Guggenheim Bilbao, and can also be found in the collections of Dia:Beacon, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Tate, London.

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Cor-ten steel, 2 plates
plate one: 141 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 2 7/8 in. (360 x 300 x 7.3 cm)
plate two: 141 3/4 x 94 1/2 x 2 3/4 in. (360 x 240 x 7 cm)

This work is sold subject to the artist and the buyer agreeing on the site for the sculpture and the manner and position in which it is to be displayed.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $2,322,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York