Richard Serra: Sculpture Exceeded Author(s): Douglas Crimp Source: October, Vol. 18 (Autumn, 1981), pp.

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most particularlyOne-Ton Prop (House of Cards). to is reprinted Richard Serra:Interviews. River effect.Richard Serramade nearlya hundred from works thatinvolved simple manipulations of lead. filmin which chunks of lead are dropped fromabove the frameshowing a hand successivelycatching (or missing) and dropping them.1972.They seemedthereby to be evidenceof yetanotherswing of an art-historical pendulum fromdisegnoto -renamed thistime. They followed.."' Among but in onlyof Serra'sown procedures. 31-37. omnipresent throughout winter 1968and thespringof 1969. 1980.fromminimalismto colore. whose separate lead forceof gravity. to spill"--togetherwith transitive of nouns indicating structuralconditions--"of tension.The Hudson York. to splash. expressionism.The New Avant-Garde: Issues forArtof theSeventies. also of themoregeneraltrends theartofthat crucial moment in our recent history:Splashing and Casting.Praeger.fromclassicism to romanticism The grandfather abstract was said to generation. 1.. it sponsors the sensibilitiescoveredby * An earlierversionof this essay appeared in French in Artistes.pp. This new sensibilitytends to be anti-precisionist and antiIt once again fostersthe values connectedwith Abstract geometric. postminimalism. The list appears in GregoireMiiller.severalhave been takenas paradigmaticnot equilibrium.Such works plates hold togetheronly through the elementary were initially seen as a repudiation of the stabilityand refinement minimal of objects in favorof processand a resultingraw pictorialism. 1981). and the various prop pieces. in be returning a new guise: Serra's loose lead work can be associated with a shiftin modernist the of sensibility. New in Etc. to crease. entropy.Richard Serra: Sculpture Exceeded* DOUGLAS CRIMP During thecourse of theyear 1968-69.That is to say. 10-11. . of to theinstructions himselfSerrahad made thepreviousyearin theform a listof verbs-"to roll.of gravity. both made by Hand CatchingLead.. 7 (January-February no.Yonkers.of theseworks. 1970-1980. the tossingmolten lead into thejunctureof wall and floor. Expressionism.

1969).4 the Serratossedmoltenlead into thecorner.. all." this case-David Smith" (p. The Pressof the Nova Scotia College of Artand Design/New Complete Writings Press. returnsto W61fflin. 8 (1964). 8 (Spring 1979). Pincus-Witten's late 1960s(Postminimalism. 248-288. New York University ."Artforum. In thissame issue. . see Rosalind Krauss. 5. 78. III. led thisworkforexpressionism him to writecriticism heavilygroundedin biography.22). For a sustaineddiscussionof the failureof historicist sculpture.informedas it is by the Principles of Art History. 5 (November1980). sculpture.31-44.22. 35. 1977.38.In so sensibility stylewithin an otherwisecontinuous flowof artistic her"Sense vol. if After Carl Andrehad placed 144 steelplates on thefloor. analysis. criticism comprehend to recent 4. ."5 vol "Slow Information: Richard Serra. with the inventionof the term which serves can postminimalism. understood to occur still within the of enterpriseof modernism. Viking. no. 3 (November 1973). Kraussis see the criticto have contested separation. thatwas sculpture. also thefirst implied bytheterm postminimalism. themostpart. 1975. only a bit more malerischthan the steel-tile grid. no. and he also cautioned against making much of the distinction between "that which is somethingof an object. what he calls the October circle ("Entries: If Even in the for as the titleof his collectionof essaysabout a numberof artists desireto claim New York. 36.. of course. 181-189. Out of London Press.2 This W1ifflinian shiftis. no." Artforum." October." Arts Yearbook. thensurelythiswas too. and thefinalchapterof her book Passages in Modern Sculpture." Arts Magazine. The father totem.and thus the characterization the "sensibility"as expressionistgoes hand in glove with an essentialistview of art typical of modernist theory: "The earliest problem of sculpture was to reproduce the of with thehorizontality theearth" or of verticality the human being in contrast in "Serra is interested the problem of what sculptural propertiesmay encompass. 1978). As early as 1964. continues to view its task as one of describingand evaluating the vicissitudesof or creation.pp. no.68 OCTOBER term malerisch. Donald Judd. "Specific Objects. 55. reprintedin Donald Judd. vol. and Sensibility. Pincus-Witten.Subsequentlyhe has progressedto writingan autobiographical chronical in lieu of criticism. 1 and betweenPincus-Witten Rosalind Kraussand [September1980]. pp.pp. York.Halifax.New York. 1959-1975. Donald Judd had posted a warning against this too-easy work" to thecategory assimilationof what he called the "new three-dimensional of sculpture. Pincus-Witten be credited who emerged. 55.but now adding thatthereturn is thatmarksthe evolutionof thegrandfather generation theresultof a "profoundOedipal syndrome Americanstyle.. hardenedsplash was called sculpture. Pincus-Witten's diary the to to returns theworkof Serra. reiterating claims oftheearlieressay. 130). "Slow Information.43-53. categorieslike modernism. 2.In one of his recently he defendinghis Principles against the antagonismsof published diaryentries. XII. 1 (September RobertPincus-Witten."' Undaunted by the difficulties much recentart has posed for this mode of such art criticism. vol. In this respect Serra's lead splashes and W15lfflin's "tearings"are almost thesine qua non of the new sensibility."Sculpturein theExpanded Field.and pictorial are tenaciouslymainAnd so when tainedagainst all theevidenceof thework theyare said to describe. See also theexchangeofletters in myself ArtsMagazine.and that which is open and in extended" since "there isn't as great a difference their nature as in their were so focusedin on thosefluctuaBut criticslike Pincus-Witten appearance.

definite scribedafter producing fairly all. qualities.modernismitselfwas materialist. Much of themotivationof the new work is to get clear of these forms.dealing it the finalblow: "Sculpture can probably be only what it is now-which means thatif it changes a greatdeal it will be something else. itsplace among Yet the othersis one of equivalence. of course. pp. however art modernist was understood. so it is finished.. according to Michael Fried's notorious attack on Judd's of position."The viewof modernist paintingas tending is implicitin Judd'sremark. 78. E. [which] are particularforms. response to the same developmentsthat have largelycompelled a modernist seen differently.overlyoptimisticsimply to ignore the question of what these"pieces" were.. Minimal Art. For. But alreadyin 1964he could see that therewere particularlysignificant works.the same developments that is.Artists spoke tellinglyof theirpieces. painting to undo its objecthood-more precisely.contingent. 10 (Summer1967). the categories throughwhich modernismhad operatedin thevisual artshad lost theirstability and slid into that"somethingelse" Juddspoke of. Michael Fried. 1968. It was. When Serra made those works it no longer seemed relevantto ask whethertheywere sculpture. and. the first which his essay was writtenas a defense-that could not be classifiedas either of painting or sculpture. its strategies and proceduresare thesame. in GregoryBattcock. but it is nearerto painting'.pp. no. towardobjecthood 116-147.Nor were theysimplyconfrontations thetwospecialized branchesof art within the same work.but. of course. drastically to rendertheiraccustomedstyle analyses utterlyuseless. By the time Serra began working in the late sixties. As art began to exceed those forms.The passage in question reads." to say.ed.Rauschenberg'sMonogram. Ibid. "perversions" even. and it is in this view that literalistsensibilityin general is grounded. Style criticismmay have had a limited utility when applied to the rigidlyadhered-tocategoriesof the individual modernistarts.7And thesenew workswere symptomatic an irreparablebreachwith the enervated art modernist forwhich Fried remainedan apologist. autonomy. a sensibility or by already was neverunderstoodapart fromits "particular themediumswhich werethesourceofitsintegrity.New York. P. 'The new workobviouslyresembles sculpturemorethanitdoes painting. not theirsculpturesor paintings or filmsor dances. Juddsaid." Artforum."Artand Objecthood. its whichis forms. V."6 how much sculpturewould indeed change by Judd could not have foreseen it theend of painting and sculpture.reprinted 7. then. minimal objects. . Dutton."And laterin the essay he zeroed in on sculpture. therefore. for Oldenburg's Bedroom Ensemble. Literalistsensibilityis. "the bestnew workin thelast fewyears circumhas been neither painting nor sculpture. 136). its idealism. 74. already(to say the worst)corrupted by perverted theatre"(p.. vol..8 The notion that Serra's work representeda shift to the 6.Richard Serra: SculptureExceeded 69 tions of appearance that they failed to notice that the very nature of artistic so as practicehad changed truly finished would be.A Critical Anthology.12-23. in theatricalterms. Instead theywere full-fledged mutations. exceeded.replaced by workswhich were hybrid. Included among Serra'sworks listedat theopening of thisessayis one whose mediumis film.

. 1955-59. 1969 RobertRauschenberg. One-Ton Prop (House of Cards).Monogram.Richard Serra.

with theminimal whose copresence grantingthatprestige for own loweredprestigewas fully object is necessary its completion.Max Kozloff.anotherhas been thenearlyunquestionedrenewalof activity outmodedforms.) But is this reallywhat we thinkwhen we encounterthe One-Ton Prop? Do those four plates of lead balanced against one another'scornersjust to achieve temporary stabilityreally referus to the act of assembling them? or to their assembler?On the contrary. the And artistthereby It became the work's ultimate signified.throughsuperficial workingin thelate aspectsof style. academic mode of painting from the same period which did indeed look backward to abstract expressionism:"It was perhaps inevitable that sculpture would respond to that same impulse to airiness and luminositywhich has recently informed current painting.Serra inheritsPollock's role as powerful male wrestingart fromraw stuff. compared Serra's work with an 9.have repudiatedtheethosof idealism.a nostalgia. thoseartists sixties and early seventies in an expressionistmode. or its evidencein a completedwork. insteadto thespectator.Indeed.Richard Serra: SculptureExceeded 71 on still malerischstyle.twisting. fromreadymadeindustrialmaterials.It was therefore recuperative a specifications desire. plates balancing.RobertFiore's filmof Serraand his .Process. In addition to Pincus-Witten. the sculptureconcentrates bodilyand on tactile co-efficients the painterlydevelopment" ("9 in a Warehouse.for example. One-Ton Prop appears to contestthe place of the not to theorizethe rupturebetweenthe defined modernist formsand the hybridpostmodernist ones. creasing.tearing. One consequence of thisfailurehas been thefalse assimilationofworksuch as Serra'sto thehistory of modernist in sculpture.(And. rolling. to links Serra.39).9 while the latter term. no. of vol. the significant relationships among those artistswho have exceeded the rigid of categories modernist practiceand who. within thesphere be of modernist sculpture. And we were thus enjoined to imagine Serra struggling of lead. 6 [February1969]. But instead of the chromatic brillianceand sensorypower which earmarksthe canvases. .was said to point to theartist'sinteriority.The artist's to exemplified but not limitedto." thelevelofutmostvulgarity in our continuing mythof the Artist. makes it possible to see discardingthe falseunities of both styleand chronology. thefactthattheseworksweremanufactured by.Serrais not a postminimalist.. Minimal art had launched an all-out attack on the prestigeof the artist. even works such as Rauschenberg's Monogram and Serra's One-Ton Prop-can now be understood to occupy a sharedposition.folding. but a postmodernist. which made criticsso willfullylatch onto process in Serra's early works as the welcome sign of a returnto expressionism. propping match ofArt. The former and thisis no merequibbling overterminology. in a greatwrestling assistants setting up the One-Ton Prop is a direct recapitulation of Hans Namuth's filmof Pollock paintinga picture. was the lesson of "action painting" relearned:Serra's splashes were the materializedversionof Pollock's with the massive drips. VII.must therefore discarded.figured theaxis minimal-postminimal.. in so doing. Worksthatshare littleor nothingof stylealone-works such as Andre's lead squares and Serra's lead splashes.

of and it thereby deniesthetimelessness art.first up in Serra's thatit cannot be reconstituted studio.he unveiledhis plans forPortlandia.insofar he considershimself painter.It refuses. Richard Serra. Casting .the ideology of authenticity.came about as if by accidentwhile he was workingon a piece in situ forJasperJohns: I was using a small plate of steel placed perpendicularto the wall.It was. it is not simply a of Ratherit shows us theentirely conditionalnatureof its demonstration entropy. example the historicist between notions of postmodernismin the fieldsof art and architectureconstitutea differences case question requiringa fullstudy.a three-story-high confessed thathis historicaljustificaof "allegorical" figure the city. object. but Commerce. Then I placed thesteelplate in the corner. That was its particular necessityat the still historical moment of its making.Graves somewhatembarrassedly tion for the figure-a kitschpastiche of beaux-artsand Rappel d l'Ordre pseudoclassicism-was a on figure the seal of the cityof Portlandwhose real name was not Portlandia at all.theOne-Ton Prop existsonlyduringthetimeforwhich it is set up. That it will eventuallycollapse is not its point. a lecturein Building commission. the self-referential of abilityto inhabitunproblemobject and theattendant character themodernist thatobject's idealist space. Nowhere is this nostalgia more evident than in the enterpriseknown as postmodernist eclecticismof Michael Graves's recentwork. Insofaras it existsat all as a work.and architect. forexample. his PortlandPublic Service In Portland's percent-for-art requirement. set elsewhere. Modernism "perversion. I would splash against it. this conditional statusremains The factthatit cannot be moved intactdoes not mean internalto the work itself. was nevertheless sculptural:its frameof reference remained modernist sculpture. existence.72 OCTOBER as and guarantorof thework.An interesting to considerwould indeedbe important particularly For as Graves. For Serra's works such as One-Ton Prop."of the classification to thatpostmodernism only can remainsa conditionof postmodernism theextent of or exceed but cannot forget abandon the achievements modernismaltogether. then. One-Ton Prop cannot be construedas a documentof processwhich has come to closure around the artist because closure is preciselywhat the work literally It as refuses. and thenpull thehardenedlead offthemold. then. (installation). is The alternative a nostalgic returnto a premodernist "innocence" such as we see in the resurgenceof sculpture cast in bronze and other atavistic currently forms. splashedalong thewall and the edge of the sheet. of the particular constraints the museum and its culture. does not cohere. And on the otherhand.his recogniof tion. that is. The important for architecture.its "corruption" or sculpturewould have been lost. I realized that the cornerwould functionas a 10. It retained. thespace of themuseum. for otherwiseis refusal.On theone hand. in which Graves presentedthe project and in which he insisted to of upon his fidelity the tradition not fullyconstituted a thing. then in the Whitney Museum.not only the classificationsculpture but also the ideology by which art in our culture is consumed.he himselfis fulfilling Seattle during the summerof 1980. 1970. thematerialitself artist generator and the simple laws of machanics occupy thatposition. If it was no longera atically it work of sculptureprecisely.10 Serra's recognitionof the externalpreconditionsof his work.

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could logically belong nowhere else. Circuit. were installed. 181.The questions thatSerra'srecentworks of century solicit are what mightbe called ship-in-the-bottle questions: How did it gethere? What is it doing here?These are precisely questions thatmodernist the sculptures. 1972. dividedthe galleryroom into two separate." in Richard Serra: Etc. In Douglas Crimp. in so comfortable theirmuseum and gallerysurroundings.structui ally. From that momentforward. the work was called Circuit.Richard Serra: SculptureExceeded 75 structural support forthe plate.Circuit and othersimilar works thus made literal the hidden condition of modernist sculpture. Richard . Rather theystrainagainst the limitsof what is possible. Serra. workhad no support. the viewer was forcedto leave and reenterthe building. real institutional exposing thevery Serra's work thoroughlyexceeded modernistsculpture. whose four plates.which had always deto pended upon disguising its real-worldconstraints secureits idealistdiscourse. over 10 feet noncommunihigh and 124 feetlong. now of steel. it physicallydisruptedthe usual commerceof that 11. 1970-1980. Interviews. accommodate themselvesto the spaces of galleries and museums.within those spaces. the lobbies and plazas of corporateheadquartersare merelyextensionsof the museum idea). ideologically-discloses thevery real limitationsimposed on artisticpracticeby thesefundamentally nineteenthinstitutions bourgeoisculture.Slice belonged only in that space. accessible throughthegallery'sstreet entrance and areas. They are questions of the material contingenciesof cultural work. of the dialectic betweenthatwork and its deployment. they The site-specific works do not. can neverpose. The work's scale and placement were absolutely determinedby the physical dimensions of the galleryand. however." the The resultwas somethinglike a reversalof the One-Ton Prop.p.the the of gallery'sspace was entirely function thesculpture's presence.That is to say.whose "abstract"space could only be guaranteed by the museum (commercial galleries. That led me to a group of worksthat redefined spaces of rooms by propping plates in possible existence. collectors' homes. Take. Serra's working always at the of threshold the possible--visually. a perimeter cating space an internalarea enteredthroughthedoor offthe building's lobby. or even thinkable. Serra's worksformuseums and galleries have been made withinand forthespecial characteristics thespaces in which of site-specific. Now the experienceof the work could no longer be separatedfromthe experienceof the galleryspace that the housed it.A continuous curve of steel plates. the work called Slice. installed last spring in Leo Castelli's Greene Streetgallery. Withouttheenclosingwalls ofthegallery. yetit had no business being there. forthe time of its installation there. By conditionsof thatwork'sprecariousexistence.wereflungto thefourcornersof thegalleryroom assigned to Serra at Documenta V. In orderto see the opposite sides of the work. for example. "Richard Serra's Urban Sculpture: An Interview.

'2 in situ.And thisis during especially true for those works which refuseassimilation to the recognizable categoriesof art.and it is one that almost no one saw Rejecting an identifiablesculptural vocabulary. as Malraux relentlessly museums do not necessarilyhave walls. It has been the special pathos of the massive earthworks a decade ago thattheyexistformostspectators of only in the form of much bad plaza artthat its smacks of IBM signifying cultural awareness. New York. Serra later explained this choice: It could have gone intoa park. Serra also rejectedthe kind of site-a park.'" Modernsculpture'sattempts meetthedemandsofpublic sculpturehad.butI feltthata parkwould designatethe fromwhat I wanted."p. places to corporateand public buildings and theirextensionssuch as lawns That's whyyou have to those contexts.installedin a dead-endstreet theBronx.1978. was thereany work of art that could logically be the product of nor A commerce. modernistsculpturedoes not logically belong in any gallery. It's difficult subvert so manycorporatebaubles on SixthAvenue.The condition of modernistsculptureis thus completely reversed. IX. 166. Guggenheim Museum. A prospectivecollectorcould not so much as move fromthefront the office.and Baden-Baden. Sculpture. It properly within was produced and the gallerywhich first displayed belongs of thatinstitutional system commerce. Serra's earliest attemptsto escape the confinesof the museum share in this pathos.was thefirst its Reversed. or approach to a public building-that would normally be occupied by public sculpture.does not belong anywherein particular. plaza. Of course. Usually you're sculptureas somethingdifferent from which have specific offered parks ideological connotations.and in thecatalogues of the 1970 Whitney Annual Exhibition. and plazas. any work can reenterthe institutionalframework reminded us. through the medium of photography. 1970. 1971. of to fromthe veryfirst. it is a productof commerce because it can as easily precisely in thehome of a collectoror a room in a museum as in thestudioWhere it belong it. . WhitneyMuseum of AmericanArt. 7 (March 1971). no. risksbecominginvisible. it however.76 OCTOBER door to space. Photographsappeared on the coversof Artforum. The Solomon R. 13. 12. rejecting the context of the of his most often reproduced works is To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram Right Angles of in The work.been contradictory the meaning of those eventswhich public the collapse of representation embody vol. kind that Serra built in America.and of Richard Serra: Works66-77. How could an artpredicatedupon course. When art abandons the institutionalframework which has sequesteredit theperiod of modernism.Yet paradoxicallyit does properlybelong to the gallery it thatoffers forsale. As if to insistupon this veryfact. In Douglas Crimp.Kunsthalle. and the Guggenheim International Exhibition. Kunsthalle. "Richard Serra's Urban Sculpture.New York.

overscaled objects. . the Jacob K. and towardthe plaza's fountainand adjoining Thomas Paine Park fromthebuilding.Richard Serra: SculptureExceeded 77 What is thepossible function sculpturein of sculptureis asked to commemorate? at a timewhen arthas specifically function? Late modernist public spaces abjured public sculptureis. our urban spaces have become burdened by these homeless. Richard TiltedArc(Installation). it signifies only art. in fact." Friedopposed might this confrontation wherebythe beholder is made part of the situation of the work-"the situationitselfbelongsto thebeholder-it is his situation"-because Serra. 1981. Serra has installeda leaning curvedwall of steel plates which blocks views toward the building's entrancefromthe the street.nothingotherthan enlargedand displaced museum sculpture. be placed not just in his space but in his way. Particularlyduring the recentperiod of doing aggressive public arts policies in the United States.On the plaza of one of lower Manhattan's ugliest new buildings.its real site remains that idealist one.he castigatedthose works as thingswhich "must somehow confront beholder-they must. Javits Federal Building. In Michael Fried's attackon the almost say.The work standsas a huge barrier which one mustwalk around simplyin orderto enteror leave the building. Serrahas just recently completeda commissionin New York Cityunderthe Administration's auspices of theGeneral Services percent-for-art program. again making explicit the veiled conditionsof modernist sculpture.and in so is reduced to banal decoration. It is this everywhere highly problematicsituation which Serra's recenturban works confront.

A numberof commissionsawarded to Serrahave. JohnBeardsley. inherentin public artat Unwilling to pretendto resolvethe contradictions this historical juncture. forthisreason.'5 or to serve a false ideological functionfor its supposed constituency. no. the personal sensibilitiesof the artistare presentedin ways that encouragewidespreadpublic empathy. were commissionsfromthe PennsylvaniaAvenue DevelopmentCorporaamong the most important tion.. encounor and concessionsto function. "Personal Sensibilitiesin Public Places. ."Artand Objecthood. opposed by Renzo Piano. It way to public confrontation. program.been sabotagedby architects. of a public policy." But we are to be reassuredfinally measureof acceptancewithinits commusculpturemay eventuallywin a greater most pathetic "A greatermeasure of acceptance" is surely the flattest. 1980."pp." Artforum. both cases. Beardsleyis preparing a book on the Art in Public Places program for the National EndowmentfortheArts. 171-175. p. Assimilationcan also be encouragedthrough a In the first work's role in a largercivic improvement case. civic improvement consequently that "Serra's ters "physical and verbal abuse." p. see Douglas Crimp.78 OCTOBER it contravened what forFried was the necessarycondition of modernistart. 45.16 In the same articlewhere this extraordinary disclosureof public artspolicy Serra'sworkis discussedas a perplexingexample of artwhich makes no appears.In thelatter.'4For as soon as the beholder is admitted. 44.the exclusion of the beholder. Serra thus refusesto participatein the liberal bureaucracy'sprogramforthe rehabilitationof an exhaustedmodernism throughits reconciliationwith a public: An artwork can become significant itspublic throughtheincorporato tion of contentrelevantto the local audience. its aggressively occupies public space. content. appears thatmodernismhas also becomemerely matter official workconcerningtheoriginsof this 14. 17. aspiration can appear in a major artpublicamodernism'sexhaustion thatsuch statements of it tion. For a discussion of these and other failed commissions. Fried. Simultaneous with its completecapitulation to the system commerce."'17 of and it is a tellingsymptom to to be attributed theartof thiscentury. XIX. work's the idealism collapses. Serra's work is also unwilling to serve an innocuous decorative function for its architecturalsite. 127.though its styleor formmightbe as unfamiliarto them. Ibid. vol.and theCentreGeorges Pompidou. his Absorptionand Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in theAge of of and Los Angeles.or by theassumptionof an identifiable function. the privatized. 10 (Summer 16.disinterested contemplationof the work gives Serra's recentwork is in this sense trulypublic. recognizablecontentor function providesa means bywhich thepublic can become engaged with the work.Berkeley 15. "Richard Serra's Urban Sculpture. work'sidentity artis subsumed the In by a moregeneralpublic purpose. 1981).opposed by RobertVenturi. 181-185. nity.helping to assureitsvalidity. openly confronts public.University California. Diderot.For Fried'smorerecent see condition of modernism.

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