‘I’m involved with the evolution of form.’
At the end of 2008, only a few months after we’d met, both halves of the modern eccentrics went to see an awe-inspiring show at the Gagosian on Britannia Street. It was the first time I’d encountered a whole exhibition of Richard Serra’s work. The different textures of these vast distressed surfaces were endlessly fascinating: from the scraped greens, greys and silvers of Open Ended (2007-2008); the peeling, flaking, crumbling blue blacks of Fernando Pessoa (2007-2008), to the vibrant orange rust of the TTI London (2007) pieces. The effect of these large scale works was mesmerising.
Fast forward to the present and you’ve the chance to experience another show of Serra’s recent work in the same space. The 2008 show featured two massive structures that the lured the viewer to enter and be swallowed up. In the third room lay a large toppled block, reminding me of the ‘2001’ monolith, abandoned, decaying and fallen. This time there is only one vast encompassing structure, NJ-2 (2016), again in weatherproof steel, rusted to a stunning orange-red marked with the streaks and stains created by the elements. You can enter this structure through an enclosed triangular aperture, leading into an enclosed passage that feels like a hidden tunnel, or through an open and inviting uncovered curved entrance. Depending on which you choose, the work either feels like an opening up process, or a journey into confinement and secrecy. And whichever choice you make, the journey through the piece leaves one slightly disorientated, with the feeling that you have travelled far further than is possible within the external dimensions of the sculpture.
The work in the other two rooms are accompanying twin sculptures. The first is Rotate (2016) – two large imposing rectangular blocks, sitting like the raw materials at the start of some undefined manufacturing process, and ripe with possibilities. The structures are the same dimensions, but by rotating one 90° along it’s length, the perception is that one is definitely larger than the other. The second, Rounds: Equal Weight, Unequal Measure (2016) gives us two cylinders, one squatter and wider than the other. Are these plugs removed in a manufacturing process? Or are they proto-obelisks, waiting to be worshipped?
Serra, both in 2008 and 2017 offers no explanations or easy meaning in his work. The seductive surfaces are entrancing, the marks haphazard and natural, and their effect is spellbinding. The colours range from pure rust-orange to mauves, blues, browns and blacks. Always open to interpretation, their presence, weight and mass, both in a physical and metaphorical sense, hangs heavily on the spectator and demand attention.
You can see the full set of images from both shows here.
All works © Richard Serra, words and images © Jonathan Dredge.