Thursday, April 24, 2008
Paris is burning with Richard Serra!
ARTmostfierce is quite busy this week. Please enjoy the NYTimes article by Steven Erlanger about Richard Serra monumental exhibit in Paris.
PARIS — France is making a fuss this week over Richard Serra, the 68-year-old American bantamweight who fashions elegant, gargantuan art out of steel.
Richard Serra’s Paris Moment On Wednesday Mr. Serra opens the annual solo show called Monumenta in the echoing Grand Palais; the city of Paris has restored one of his earlier works to its proper place in the garden of the Tuileries; and he has been made a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Academy — a two-rank leap from his previous knighthood, the starter kind usually given to singers like Kylie Minogue, who recently received hers.
France has always welcomed Mr. Serra, even before he became iconic, in the days when some of his work in America was dismantled for scrap. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla, are expected to attend the opening of “Monumenta,” prompting Mr. Serra to ask, “What U.S. president would do that?”
But the sheer scale of Mr. Serra’s work has always created difficulties, to which Paris has found two creative solutions — for now, at least.
Monumenta started last year under the French Culture Ministry as a way of filling the enormous Grand Palais, built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, after a long and expensive restoration.
A cruciform crystal palace of filigreed iron and glass, the Grand Palais rises 197 feet at the nave and covers 775,000 square feet, and filling it is a monumental task. The German sculptor Anselm Kiefer did it last year with seven stand-alone houses, or galleries, each about 50 feet high, and concrete towers.
Mr. Serra began struggling with the problem two years ago. “First, you have to figure out scale,” he said. “I was overwhelmed by the space and wasn’t exactly sure what to do. But I realized you have to deal with the entirety of the space — to think otherwise was to kid myself.”
He couldn’t just deal with the floor plan, he said. “I had to go vertical here.”
His answer is a sculpture called “Promenade,” five enormous slabs of Cor-Ten steel set along the central axis of the floor. The steel slabs are each 56 feet high, 13 feet wide and 5 ½ inches thick, and each weighs some 73 tons. Yet they are precisely placed and angled, leaning 20 inches in or away from their axis, creating shifting lines of sight. As the sun moves over the course of the day, casting different latticed shadows from the building, the plates appear at times to bend toward or away from the viewer. At night, with the ceiling dark, the sculpture becomes “more somber, more of a sanctuary,” Mr. Serra said.
Formalism seems to require words, and Mr. Serra complies. “You have to set up a formal structure; it makes sculpture interesting,” he said, wandering among the slabs in the otherwise empty hall. “If we hang new material on old forms, it’s boring.”
His generation, he said, “wanted to open the entire field — to see something in time and place,” and take sculpture off its pedestal, which “makes it seem like furniture or commodities,” he said.
“People don’t perceive the art but the surplus value of art — art as photographs, as J-PEGs. People talk of art and ask: ‘How much does it cost? What’s its pedigree?’ But people don’t go to see the work in place.”
He wants people to experience the art in a particular time and setting: “It’s about apprehension, how you apprehend the space and the piece,” he said. “It’s part of the experience of walking around the space in which the art appears — you implicate yourself in the space, and the experience is in you, not in the frame or on the wall.”
It’s a democratic thought in an elitist field. But it can be troubling too, as his experience with “Clara-Clara” demonstrates.
Mr. Serra met his wife, Clara Weyergraf-Serra, in 1977. In 1983 he created “Clara-Clara,” a sculpture commissioned for the pit, or forum, of the Pompidou Center as part of a Serra retrospective show. Two large, inclined steel C’s, each roughly 12 feet high by 108 feet long and weighing 105 tons, curve away from each other at the ends and nearly meet in the middle, but allow a viewer to walk through.
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