The Gagosian: Richard Serra

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On Wednesday, I went on a trip to London; amongst other exhibitions I was heading for, I was far more excited for the exhibition of Richard Serra’s work at The Gagosian. Four pieces were exhibited, and each one literally blew me away. I’ve been a fan of Serra’s work for a while now, and seeing it up close, like this, was an absolute joy.

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The first piece I experienced was ‘Ramble’, a series of Rectangular Steel slabs, all upon their side, around 4″ thick. They were arranged throughout the room in a sort of ‘maze-like’ fashion, and one was invited to wander the space, exploring the piece and it’s intense gravity. This is the first thing that one notices about the piece; the sheer weight of each of the steel slabs within the array; they are dense, and at once incredibly heavy. If one were to topple, then one can assume that the entirety of the piece would likewise topple over; much like a large stack of dominoes, except these dominoes would surely crush anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their path. Much like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, this work exudes a sense of serenity, that seeps into the surrounding areas of the room and gallery; almost like gravestones, the ‘slabs’ seem to dampen the sound around them; whether this is just a placebo effect or if the steel has some sort of sound dampening effect, I am unsure. The piece is fascinating, and if one is to look over the tops of the slabs, or down the side, one can see the differing elevations of the slabs; like a singular unity of form. Each slab is separate, but in this space they become one, unified object. Gestalt Theory is present here, as well as the somber silence of dense matter; a piece which aims to unite these two theories in one piece; the pieces also seem at once lighter than the ultimate mass of themselves because of the separation of the pieces; space is present, in contrast to the density of each slab, within each of these objects; lightening the load, so to speak.

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‘Backdoor Pipe’, a monolithic, orange tunnel centered in the far left room of the Gagosian. It is at once empty, lifeless, and yet full of potential. The Tunnel stands firm, aloof, over the viewer, and invites one to descend into the darkness of it’s bosom, like a mother comforting her child after a strict discipline. It is sublime, like a church, serene and calm, it fills one with a sense of mutual respect; if we are to respect the object, then it shall respect us by not exuding it’s force upon us. As I walked into the form, I felt myself slowly be submerged by the darkness within the object, much like one would walk into the darkness of an underpass on a dark evening, except, there was something distinctively different here; it was not civilization I was embarking into, bur rather something that seemed alien to me…almost organic, despite it’s inorganic substance. As I wandered through, there was nothing for me to focus on but the dark, and eventual light breaching it; I was at one with myself, and Serra’s work seems to have this almost intangible quality to them. They are meditative, reflective, and prompt someone to look inwards, rather than outwards. Possibly, this is the reason I enjoy minimalism so much? Minimalist sculptures prompt one to peruse their own minds, the pieces are sound in their simplicity, they exude thoughts and concepts only from the mind of the viewer. This piece, I felt was much like a womb, and I wanted to be taken back into it; given the comfort that the darkness held within itself. There was also something interesting about the sound of the space; the rooms were silent, except for the clatter of footsteps every now and then; except for the echoes of the trains of King’s cross station rumbling along through the space. The noise though, was almost indescribable; a Rumble, like a roar, that slowly grew and silenced once more; it was if the very material that the space was made of was calling to me; the Womb roared, and I listened.

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Another piece that I was actually looking forward to seeing was ‘London Cross’, a site specific monolithic sculpture within the right square room. The piece consists of two huge sheets of steel, placed upon one another and propped in the corners; one rests upon the other, and they divide the space into a strange, geometric form. The piece was beautiful, it hung above the heads of the viewer, evoking a sense of fear, but unfortunately, it did not make me feel as terrified as I initially thought. I am fascinated by the weight of these objects; the density, the weight, the fear that if it were to land upon our fragile bodies we would be squashed like an ant under the shoe of a playing child. This piece, because of the space surrounding it, did not feel as heavy as I initially thought it would. Of course, this is fascinating to think about; how can such heavy sheets of steel seem almost, light, when suspended above our heads? ‘Trip hammer’ , another work by Serra, exudes a greater sense of this fear; this impending doom, that dominates and triggers our fight/flight mechanisms. This space created by ‘London Cross’ does not evoke such feelings, but the sheer skill included to make such an object lose these abilities. Well, that is astounding in itself.

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‘Dead Load’. This piece took me by surprise, I was not even aware it was there until Sarah had pointed it out to me; A strong, silent piece situated in the very centre of a silent, serene white room. The piece was sublime, beautifully articulated; two large blocks of steel, one orange, one grey, the larger of the two placed upon the top of the smaller, creating a sense of weight unlike if it was the other way around. There is a sense of asymmetry because of this, most often the smaller piece of a sculpture is placed upon the top of the larger; temples, spires, pyramids, each and everyone points to the sky through the placement of it’s individual parts, but this has been turned upside down. Simplistic, minimalist, but as successful as a piece can be. This piece, I feel, defines sculpture. It is the condensed form of pure sculpture; There is nothing bu the material, nothing but how it interacts with itself, and the space surrounding it. The pieces are not even perfect rectangular forms, but this is perfect, it adds to the piece; a slight gap appears between the two objects within their corners, the form is so realised, yet imperfect; therein lies the genius of it, the wonder, the value. This, is one of my favourite sculptures of all time, i’d say.

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