Trapped amongst layers of infinite black, one has no other choice than to move around the monumental paper sheets entitled Rifts.
At Gagosian London, ten paintings by Richard Serra spanning from 2011 to 2018 successively create the illusion that one is surrounded by moving plaques, reminiscent of his renowned sculptures. In that sense, the exhibition resembles more an installation rather than a traditional painting exhibition.
A minimalist best known for his large-scale works sculptures produced from metal sheets, the American artist has defied the perception of what a sculpture is with his modern, in situ abstracts since the 1960s.
The American artist is a minimalist best known for his large-scale works made of metal sheets. Since the 1960s, his modern abstracts have defied the perception of what a sculpture is, especially when the latter is created in situ, meaning in a precise location only.
He has followed in the footsteps of notable fellow minimalist sculptors such as Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, or Eva Hesse to name a few and was influenced by his inner-circle Yale University classmates Chuck Close and Brice Marden, along with professors Philip Guston and Joseph Albers.
The characteristics of Serra’s sculptures are sinuous, made of intentional yet unfamiliar and unpredictable breaches while maintaining homogeneity within the overall shape. Ellipses and spirals are at the centre of his sculptures, at first distancing viewers whilst simultaneously, enticing them to come closer to the piece. As opposed to a classic set-up, viewers are encouraged to shift, change orientation, take a few steps back, and approach to see the work from multiple angles, not necessarily starting from the middle, as is traditional.
‘I use black because it is a color that doesn’t transport elusive emotions.’ Serra asserts in the Gagosian’s press release. This seems to imply that there is no evading our own sensations upon glancing at his work.
The black content creates a barricade to which the rifts are the only way out. They are located on the top or bottom extremities of the paintings. The colour is intense, deep, and textured made with paintstick, a material dear to Serra adopted in his early paintings.
As the gallery assistant explains, the painstick takes the form of a greasy wax crayon which the artist melts and dries. He then adds one final coating of melted wax to create a large brick which he positions directly on the Japanese hung papers. Serra himself applies the paintstick in thick layers, leaving only an aperture in the form of an elongated triangle: the rift.
The illusion of entering darkness is as equally present as escaping it. A succession of different emotions engulfs me within the solitude of the black. Although other people are present, the sentiment of isolation within my own thoughts and feelings prevail. Especially in the main room, where huge canvases look over me, acting simultaneously as an invisible protection and a compelling force ordering introspection. I have no other choice than to surrender and embrace humility.
It is a one of a kind experience to be partitioned in Serra’s work, whether in his paintings or in his sculptures. Rifts possesses a human touch which differs from the sculpture’s smooth quality and therefore allows more profound and spiritual feelings.
Rifts: Richard Serra at Gagosian (6 April to 25 May 2018)