Richard Serra - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie m Bochum
    Galerie Tschudi, Glarus
    Private Collection, Germany
    Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Galerie m Bochum, Richard Serra: Vier neue Zeichnungen/Four New Drawings, 1 September 1– 28 November 28 1990
    Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Eine Perspektive für die Zukunft: Die ständige Sammlung: Selten gezeigte Werke: Leihgaben aus Privatbesitz, 17 March - 19 May 1991
    Luxembourg, Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, Richard Serra: Exchange (Dessins), 12 December 1996 – 5 February 1997
    Marl, Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten, Ausgestellt—Vorgestellt IV: Richard Serra für Susan Hartnett, 12 September - 24 October 1999
    Glarus, Galerie Tschudi, Richard Serra, 8 July - 26 August 2000
    Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Richard Serra Prints Druckgrafik Drawings Zeichnung/Prints, Drawings, 17 February - 18 May 2008, p. 50 (illustrated, pp. 35-36; titled Sioux (No. 4))
    Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, Extended Drawing: Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, 8 September 2011 - 15 January 2012

  • Catalogue Essay

    Richard Serra’s work often elicits the sensation of standing beneath a tall, heavy wall that leans over one’s head like a breaking wave. His art, aesthetically pared-down yet continuously experimenting with unconventional heights and curvatures, achieves a prodigious balance between pure simplicity and arresting spectacle. Soaring over two metres in height and stretching more than double in width, Sioux, 1990, is an enthralling example of the artist’s practice, forming part of his exquisite body of paintstick drawings. Magnified to gargantuan dimensions, Sioux reveals the graphic potential located at the intersection between flat surfaces, dense matter, and the colour black. ‘Since black is the densest colour material, it absorbs and dissipates light to a maximum and thereby changes the artificial as well as the natural light in a given room’, Serra wrote. ‘A black shape can hold its space and place in relation to a larger volume and alter the mass of that volume readily’ (Richard Serra, ‘Notes on Drawing (1988)’, Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011, n.p.). Capturing and swallowing any ray of light hitting its surface into an unknown void, the work is lifted from the total darkness of its dual jet-black surfaces by the emergence of a triangular section of white paper fragmenting the composition’s lower edge. The paper’s stark and incongruous presence heightens Sioux’s unfaltering abstraction, and endows it with a pure, almost spiritual quality that is typical of Serra’s best work.

    Though he remains principally known and recognised for his monumental steel and lead sculptures, Serra has conceded that the medium of drawing remains the beating heart of his practice. ‘I've been drawing all my life’, Serra noted in 2011. ‘Drawing is another way of thinking’ (Richard Serra, in interview with Charlie Rose, 21 April 2011). Commenced in the mid-1970s, the artist’s paintstick drawings were achieved by melting down individual sticks and combining them into large ‘paintstick bricks’, which in turn allowed him to tackle the medium directly and with both hands, actively engaging with the picture plane. During this process, Serra would frequently press melted paintstick through a screen of wire mesh, leaving the paper covered with thick pigment protruding from areas of the picture plane’s surface. In this way he not only created new visual forms and textures but more importantly invented a whole new process, of which the present work is a seminal example.

    In fact, it seems that the process matters almost as much to Serra as the finished product. In 1967, the artist made his famous ‘verb list’ that he published in the journal Avalanche just four years later: a conceptual blueprint deployed over two sheets of blank paper, comprising a number of possible actions and contexts to act upon. Among these, rolling, folding, and casting appeared alongside a list of environmental and compositional ideals including gravity, entropy and nature. Though fairly ordinary and straightforward at first glance, Serra’s ‘linguistic drawing’ in fact serves as a rich premise from which to understand his complex artistic practice. The artist himself describes his verb list as ‘a series of actions to relate to oneself, material, place, and process’, signifying recurring gestures and impulses, as well as guiding elements of seriality and self-referentiality. The artist’s use of black similarly seems to posit as a rule laying beneath the foundations of his work. ‘In terms of weight’, he declared, ‘black is heavier, creates a larger volume, holds itself in a more compressed field.’ (Richard Serra quoted in, From the Collection: 1960-69, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, n.p.). In other words, black does not act as a mere feature of Serra’s drawing; it becomes the drawing itself.

    With its grand dimensions and pure aura, Sioux emanates a numinous air that likens it to an altarpiece. Not unfamiliar with the spiritual quality of his work, Serra conceded that he felt art had more in common with religion than it did with philosophy or science – disciplines he dismissed as merely descriptive. His point was that, as opposed to offering rational analyses or renditions of phenomenological experience, art and religion provided direct, unmediated experiences. In this perspective, Liza Bear asked the artist whether any moral beliefs affected his work in a 1973 interview, to which Serra simply – and succinctly – answered yes. Shifting the discussion from Sioux’s material implications to its ontological manifestations and moral consequences, it is interesting to think of the alchemic pressure in Serra’s art which generates a tension between essence and condition. ‘In an advanced age of technical reproducibility, Richard Serra creates graphic works with an aura which one can hardly resist’, wrote Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe (Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe, Richard Serra: Prints Catalogue Raisonné, 1972-1999, Düsseldorf, 1999, n.p.).

    Transcending the solemn quality that his Minimalist forebears advocated in their work, Serra’s oeuvre furthermore takes a spectacular turn. Though the forms he deploys both in sculpture and on paper are biomorphic, the sheer scale with which they are realised often surpasses any conventional norms. ‘He works at the physical scale of architecture and at the intellectual scale of art history as a whole’ (Peter Schjeldahl, ‘Industrial Strength’, The New Yorker, 4 June 2007, online). Sioux aptly illustrates this kind of reverence Serra forces upon the viewer on first encounter. It is as grand in size as it is replete with aesthetic associations culled from varied artistic movements and independent artistic practices. The penetrating nature of the paintstick's black is redolent of Pierre Soulages's outrenoir, and Kasimir Malevich at a time when aesthetic reduction was not just a conceptual choice but also a political necessity. The combination of the hand-worked texture in Sioux’s process of creation and its spiritual quality furthermore calls associations to artists like Yves Klein, whose similar dedication to a chrome’s textural capacities enabled pure inner force, as if radiating from the edges of the support it generously covered.

    Yet, despite their undeniable reference to numerous art historical contributions, Serra’s paintstick drawings are recognisable among any as his own: the sheer thickness that coats their surface, the handmade paper that imparts the entire compositions with a certain sense of intimacy, and the careful dispositions of the sheets to create unique, unalterable apertures, have all become trademark to the artist’s work. Together, they orchestrate a choreography of sorts, which offers an insight into Serra’s intimate interests and inspirations. Conceding his strong affection for avant-garde dance, notably that envisioned by the prodigious eyes of Yvonne Rainer, Serra endows his work with a sense of vitality that is akin to rhythmic movement. In this perspective, Sioux’s double sheets are reminiscent of tectonic plates able to make their underlying paper support and surroundings vibrate.



paintstick on paper
210.3 x 410 cm (82 3/4 x 161 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1990.

£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £885,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019