“What interested me [about Brancusi] was that the plane, mass, and volume of pieces … were delineated and completed on the edge. Drawing was a prime consideration. The pieces were drawn well, and I wanted to draw from them in order to understand them.” (Richard Serra interviewed by Friedrich Teja Bach, Richard Serra Interviews, 1970-1980, 1980, pp. 46-55) It seems contradictory to take a three-dimensional object down to a two dimensional one in order to fully comprehend it, but this addition through reduction is fundamental to understanding the work of Richard Serra. Take, for example, any one of Serra’s monolithic sculptural masterpieces. As a viewer beholds one of these massive objects, he cannot help but notice the spaciousness of the area that must contain it, and thus his awareness of the space is consequently heightened. However, while the sculpture augments one’s attention to his surroundings, its inhabitance in the area physically minimizes the amount of space that is normally available. Addition through reduction. This paradox runs through Serra’s historically significant body of work.
While a majority of sculptors practice drawing in service of their sculptures that is not the case with Serra. His works on paper are not simply studies that will ultimately be converted into sculptural pieces, but exist on their own right for their own sake. His drawings are not subservient to his sculpture, but rather advance similar ideas through a different medium. In Celan, a relatively recent work dated to 2010, Serra presents the viewer with an abstract work filled with vitality and movement. At the center of the canvas is a ball composed of a black so dense that it exerts a gravitational pull on the viewer. The shape itself appears to be contracting and expanding simultaneously as a scattering of black drips seems to explode outward from the circle’s boundary. Standing at 70 ½ inches tall by 70 ½ inches wide, Celan is an imposing force that commands attention. Even though the work is ultimately flat, its formidable presence extends well beyond its frame. It has the powerful effect of drastically altering a viewer’s physical and visual relationship to the room in which it resides, similar to that of Serra’s heroic sculptures. For Richard Serra drawing is not a two dimensional proposition. His drawings interact with their physical environments and create spaces of their own.
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