Richard Serra is widely celebrated by academics and popular critics alike for rethinking the very nature of sculptural objects. Rather than functioning as sites of aesthetic interest in themselves, Serra's works have served as literal indexes of his working process, or as quasi-architectural structures that prompt critical reflection on how we perceive space and time.
These terms, which have been painstakingly refined in the voluminous critical texts on Serra's work, can be applied to the "New Sculptures" (all works 2013) on view at Gagosian's two Chelsea locations. Remarkably consistent with Serra's output of the past decades, the five pieces—uniformly large in scale and ambition—are striking interventions, forcefully reordering the space of the gallery. And yet, these works also help measure just how far the context in which Serra produces and exhibits his sculpture has shifted since the late 1960s.
In truth, I've never liked the torqued steel works that have become Serra's signature, and Inside Out, a maze formed by two long, wavy metal sheets that occupied most of Gagosian's 21st Street gallery (this part closed in February), feels like more of the same. Walking through the meandering structure involves navigating a circuit that alternates between narrow pathways and disorienting atriumlike spaces, with twisting orange metal always overhead.
It seems perverse to characterize the sculptures at the 24th Street gallery as more subtle, though the straight-edged, black steel pieces are certainly sobering. If Inside Out takes on the character of a funhouse, 7 Plates, 6 Angles is more in tune with the brutalist vocabulary of Serra's work of the 1970s and 1980s. Huge steel walls several feet wide zigzag through an expansive gallery, dividing it into triangular spaces where the plates meet at acute angles. An adjacent room is filled with 24 steel plates of varying heights, though all are roughly as tall as a person. The title of the...
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