Richard Serra at Gagosian London

27 October 2014 § Leave a comment

Richard Serra is not a particularly prolific artist – quite understandable given the scale of his individual works. His works are usually large, site-specific sculptures for architectural, urban and landscape settings. As for seeing them in London, other than an occasional smaller work at the Tate its hard to recall when I last saw a work in the city – indeed his last show here was again at Gagosian way back in 2008.

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Most usually Serra’s giant steel sculptures are single piece installations and when there is opportunity to view more than one it immediately brings to mind to mind the maxim about London buses – none for ages and then they all come at once. It is therefore with great anticipation that we make our way to see the latest Gagosian exhibition at their new space in Brittania Street.
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Comprising three new works, alongside the older Backdoor Pipeline (2010) each is significant in scale and ambition – almost every wall in the gallery intact destroyed and rebuilt in order to allow the installation. Serra’s sculpture explores the exchange between artwork, site, and viewer and the group of pieces here cleverly explore this relationship in very different ways. He says “I wanted to make a show with different aspects of compression and circulation, intervals and elevation, different ways to approach a field or a space or a context.”

In one room two vertical expanses of steel are jammed corner to corner across the room and sit diagonally one upon the other, as its title London Cross suggests. Walking under the balanced sheet one is apprehensive about the vast weight balanced above your head.

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In another gallery is Dead Weight – two massive blocks of steel that rest one on top of the other.  They are not exactly the same size, texture or shape, the upper is larger, more rusted – it seems to impose itself upon the lower, plainer block . Peering through the uneven crack between them you can see the uneven shapes; they sit together, as Serra says, ‘like ancient rocks’.

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The largest space is occupied by Ramble and its rows of upright blocks. In a variety of different sizes they sit at 90 degrees to the predominate direction of passage through the space physically blocking your progress. They invite you to weave your way through them experiencing their size and mass as you wander through the gaps and pathways.

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The most impressive was, one presumes, the most complex to construct.  Backdoor Pipeline is a curving tunnel, a doughnut-shaped segment of monumental steel in two parts. About fifty feet long one is urged to enter the dark tunnel   that it forms, with the exit only revealed as you walk through its interior.

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Cleverly Serra asks us to variously walk under, through, around and inside – each piece experienced in a different way. Despite their unyielding weight, massive size and imposing presence his handling of these vast steel blocks is clever and delicate. Even in his seventies Serra clearly has lost none of his touch.

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