I always enjoy interacting with Richard Serra’s work. This latest is by far the most intense and startling. I didn’t look at the photos above before confronting the work in the gallery, though the entire time I was wondering how I could get on the gallery roof and look down through the skylights… Let me say at the outset that these Serra pieces are exquisite. They force the viewer to enter into the world of the artist, literally bending one, with actual force, to the shape of the massive steel sculpture. I wondered if it was only me so I paused to observe and everyone–from the smallest to the tallest–leaned in the direction of the bend in the steel immediately upon entering. I felt quite certain that it was simply a shift in visual perception, but even with my eyes closed I felt a kind of force. I have no idea whether steel gives off a particular energy. Of course, so does going below deck on a sail boat, and the result was similar; I was nauseous for several hours after.
In fact it was quite by chance that I found the Serra at all, as the show in question is in the Gagosian on 21st, not the one on 24th, the one I make a point of stopping in at whenever I am in Manhattan. And because the way to approach Chelsea now is by walking on the El from 14th Street to 21st (it will go the entire length of the El eventually, but not yet) one encounters a whole other set of galleries there. In fact I had forgotten Gagosian had the gallery on 21st, and forgotten Serra had a show. Over drinks the night before friends had suggested that the current face of Chelsea (3 week shows making things incredibly fluid) was quite forgettable. It was with few expectations that I set off. Fortunately even the most finely tuned eyes can rarely catch all of Chelsea in one day–Serra fans, these two did not venture down to 21st street, but instead took in the Mike Kelley exhibit on 24th. More on Kelley another time, and more on some of the other shows, several of which were extremely memorable.
One final note on the Serra: It occurs to me that these sculptures, like many of his towering works, represent containers, most obviously the prow of ships cutting through all things permeable in a glorious appreciation of material communion…and this may be why I dreamed there was a massive Serra sculpture outside my bedroom window last night, threatening to upend my little patch of terra firma. Despite the obvious danger I was glued to the window with a great sense of delight.