- Richard Serra
Galerie Ricke, Cologne
Acquired by the present owner from the above in March 1969
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und europäische Kunst der sechziger und siebziger Jahre, November 1983 - April 1984, cat. no. 344, p. 169, illustrated
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Schwerpunkt Skulptur, June - October 1992, cat. no. 119, p. 71, illustrated in color
For all its extreme materiality, Serra's oeuvre contains a conceptual core of premises that the artist has explored with every-increasing rigor. Folded/Unfolded is a pure example of the artist's oft-quoted and revelatory Verb List of 1967-68 which is a litany of transitory action in the infinitive case. From basic verbs such as ``to split'', ``to roll'' and ``to fold'', to the more complex ``of inertia'', ``of friction'' and ``of tension,'' Serra considers a world of transitivity. Malleable lead was the ideal medium for these early investigations of the inherent properties of material and the Post-Minimalist focus on process.
In an interview with Kynaston McShine on the occasion of his 2007 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Serra commented, ``One of the first things I did when I started working in New York was to write down a list of verbs – to splash, to tear, to roll, to cut and so on. I then enacted those verbs in the studio with rubber and lead in relation to time and place. ...The verb list allowed me to experiment without any preconceived idea about what I was going to make and not worry about the history of sculpture. I wasn't burdened by any prescripted definition of material, process or end product.'' (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Richard Serra, Sculptor: Forty Years, 2007, p. 27) Kynaston McShine in turn comments on the profound impact among artists and curators of Serra's startling Splashing for the exhibition Nine at Castelli in 1968. This work was a milestone in the nascent movement toward ``Process Art'' and its radical dematerialization of sculpture. Contemporary artists, following the lead of Constantin Brancusi, had simplified form and many of the Minimalists had long adopted the use of industrial material to fabricate works that did not include any trace of the artist's hand. But Serra's Splashing, executed in a Castelli warehouse on the upper West Side of Manhattan, pushed this deconstruction of the concept of sculpture to its most extreme conceptual basis. As a study in phenomenology, Serra's splatter and splash pieces are almost elegantly simple in their premise as they literally dissolves sculpture and lay bare the construction process as the creative act. Lead was soft and malleable yet substantial in mass, and it appealed to Serra for its weight and flexibility. In Splashing, Serra flung molten lead against the wall and floor of the warehouse, creating random patterns that solidified as the lead cooled. Documented in a famous photograph, this act of ``process'' was the most complete statement to date that demythologized traditional pedestal art and sculptural practices of molding and casting.
Folded/Unfolded is one of the Verb List sculptures that followed. A large sheet of soft lead was literally folded and then unfolded, leaving vestiges of its process in the crimped folds that are a clear demonstration of Serra's conceptual premise. Folded/Unfolded is also emblematic for another development in the sculptor's craft as this self-contained work, pure in its material and essential in its process, rests directly on the floor. Several artists since the mid-century had eliminated the pedestal, and Serra and many of his Post-Minimalist colleagues followed suit. At first a direct comparison to Folded/Unfolded would seem to be one of Carl Andre's famous floor sculptures from the same year of 1969 which is comprised of a grid pattern of squares of a single metal or a combination of two metals such as Aluminum-Magnesium Alloy Square from 1969. Serra has acknowledged a sympathy between his work and Andre's sculptures: ``[Carl] Andre was a Minimalist who was important to me, because he was interested in the properties of materials, the matter of the matter. ..[Andre and Josef Albers] are both concerned with the relationship between the material and its potential to construct. That's basically what Alber's design course was: take matter, apply a procedure to it, and see what evolves.'' But Serra also proceeds to point out where he and his contemporaries diverged from artists such as Sol LeWitt. ``The Minimalist object did not deal with process or orientation to space. Minimalism either dealt with the logic of the grid, which always puts a person at an equal distance from the surface, or disposed the work on the floor to be read as a painting from above. ...My generation, the Post-Minimalist generation, saw that as a limitation. Bruce Nauman, Eva Hesse, Richard Long and Smithson all opened up the field in various ways.'' (Ibid, p.28) Eva Hesse was indeed a kindred spirit who also adopted unconventional materials for her investigations into new processes and new forms. Augment, created in 1968 in the same year as Splashing, is just as radical in its refined and simple reductive approach to the making of art. ``Augment'' is also a verb whose meaning was noted in the artist's diary (``increase, make greater''), and in Hesse's work, sheets of rubberized canvas are overlapped in a sequence on the floor with the final sheet folded over itself. Augment is a precursor of more extensive explorations of repeated units by Hesse, but in its powerful presence and independence from artistic orthodoxy, it is an extraordinarily apt partner to Folded/Unfolded. Both represent a revolutionary departure toward new sculptural forms and methodology that would alter the direction of sculptural art into the 21st century.