Richard Serra - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'If anyone wants an indication of how artists think, the easiest way would be to see how they go about making their drawing.' —Richard SerraWhile perhaps best known for his large-scale sculptures, American artist Richard Serra recognises the fundamental role drawing plays in his artistic practice: ‘I have been drawing all my life. I started at a young age. Drawing was the primary mode of experiencing the world for me and that is still how I understand what I see’.i Executed solely using black pigment, his drawings are exclusively nonrepresentational in nature and are conceived as independent entities from both his sculptural practice and the daily images he creates as informal notation devices. Rotterdam Vertical #11, 2017, belongs to a significant body of work comprised of four series of drawings executed between 2015 and 2017: the Ramble drawings (2015), the Composites (2016), the Rotterdam Horizontals (2016-17), and the Rotterdam Verticals (2016-17). All created using broadly the same studio practices, these works on paper mark a crucial development in Serra’s interrogation of the possibilities of the medium of drawing.

    Serra spreads etching ink, silica, paintstick (and sometimes lithograph crayon, pastel powder, and graphite powder) onto a table. He then places handmade paper on top of this viscous material and runs a steel block across the back of the sheet in broad sweeps. The pressure exerted by the artist through the palm-sized tool facilitates a transferal process: the black pigment lifts from the tabletop onto the surface of the paper. As in his earlier employment of a similar technique for his series of drawings Tracks (2007-8) and Solids (2008), Serra notes, ‘I don’t see the drawing I am making until the paper is pulled off the floor and turned over’.ii  Relying on his tactile instinct, the artist does not intervene in the resultant surface, characterising each work as a unique index of its process of creation.

    The Rotterdam Horizontals and Rotterdam Verticals were made especially for a major exhibition of the artist’s drawings at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam in 2017. Uniquely in these two groups of drawings, while the movement of the tool either vertically or horizontally across the paper determines to which series a work will belong, the final orientation of each piece is not decided until the surface is revealed. Once the transferral process is complete, the paper might be inverted 180 degrees. Therefore, while much of the drawing process is executed without the artist knowing the precise outcome of his mark-making, this final stage is dictated by the Serra’s visual determination of the final composition of a work. 


    Franz Kline, Light Mechanic, 1960, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Photo credit Bridgeman Images © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021

    The technique employed in the creation of the Rotterdam drawings emphasises Serra’s process-focussed approach to artmaking. Famously, when working in New York in the late 1960s he wrote a list of verbs (Verblist, 1967-8) that were later enacted in his studio using a variety of materials. For Serra, ‘The residue of the activities didn’t always qualify as art. I was primarily interested in the process and it was important that whatever was finally made reveal its making’.iii Proclaiming that ‘drawing is a verb’, the same impetus to articulate the process of creation through the materiality of a work is captured in Rotterdam Vertical #11.


    Georges Seurat, Poplars, 1883-1884, conte crayon on paper, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo credit: Bridgeman Images

    Reflecting on his place in art history, Serra explains, ‘I am not so interested in the history of academic drawing but in the people who have changed the definition of drawing’, naming his particular admiration for Georges Seurat, Jasper Johns, and Cy Twombly.iv As powerfully demonstrated in Rotterdam Vertical #11, like these giants of the twentieth century, Serra formulates his own unique approach to drawing by reconceptualising the act of mark-making on paper, asserting his place as an innovator at the forefront of contemporary artistic production.


    Ahead of the acclaimed 2017 exhibition Richard Serra Drawings 2015-2017 at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Serra and Francesco Stocchi (curator) discuss the artist’s drawing practice. 


    Collector's Digest


    •    Richard Serra’s drawings have garnered significant attention in recent years thanks to major museum shows including Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective (2011-2012) that travelled to the Met, New York, the Menil Colelction, and SFMOMA.


    •    The present work was created by the artist especially for a celebrated 2017 exhibition of his drawings at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, titled Richard Serra Drawings 2015-2017.


    Richard Serra, quoted in Cristina Carrillo, ‘Interview with Richard Serra: It is the contradictions, not the similarities, that make the Beyler Foundation show interesting’, 30 June 2011, The Art Newspaper, online
    ii Richard Serra, quoted in Richard Serra Drawings 2015-2017, exh. cat., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 2017, p. 207
    iii Richard Serra, quoted in Richard Serra. Sculpture: Forty Years, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2007, p. 27
    iv Richard Serra, quoted in Cristina Carrillo, ‘Interview with Richard Serra: It is the contradictions, not the similarities, that make the Beyler Foundation show interesting’, 30 June 2011, The Art Newspaper, online

    • Provenance

      David Zwirner, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Richard Serra Drawings 2015-2017. Rambles, Composites, Rotterdam Verticals, Rotterdam Horizontals, Rifts, 24 June - 24 September 2017, p. 131 (illustrated, pp. 18, 151)

    • 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.

      View More Works


Rotterdam Vertical #11

etching ink, silica and paintstick on handmade paper
101.6 x 66.1 cm (40 x 26 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
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20th Century & Contemporary Art

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021