What interests me is the opportunity for all of us to become something different from what we are, by constructing spaces that contribute something to the experience of who we are.
Richard Serra was born in San Francisco in 1939. With a Spanish father and a Russian mother, Serra worked in steel mills to support himself while attending the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara from 1957 to 1961. This experience helped him to understand how to work with metal, especially with steel, a material he has continued using throughout his career. Serra graduated in English Philology in 1961. The industrial and constructive aspect has continued to be present in his work throughout his career.
From 1961 to 1964, while studying Fine Arts at Yale University, Serra expanded his social circle and got close to other artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt or Frank Stella. His first individual exhibition took place in Galleria La Salita, Rome. Serra began to use materials that are not often used in sculpture, such as rubber or fibreglass. On his return to the United States he settled in New York and frequented artists such as Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Eva Hesse or Sol LeWitt. Serra’s early work can be inscribed in the process art movement, which considered process the central aspect of the piece, more important than the final result. Influenced by his experience in Italy and his contact with povera, Serra started experimenting with the plastic properties of materials such as leather, neon or lead. As Nancy Spector explains, this list of verbs in infinitive tense served as a catalyst for his subsequent work, to which he added the prop series, with pieces resting on each other – a personal explanation of the principles of equilibrium – and Belts – belts suspended from a wall like soft, twisted figures – both from 1976. Serra progressively approached sculptures of increasing size and weight, creating site-specific pieces for commissions in the nature and in the city.
Preserving its initial minimalist aesthetic, Serra’s work acquired recognition for its physicality, which gets emphasized by its impressive size and weight and by his proposal of sculpture as an experience in itself.