In Memoriam: Richard Serra and the Monumentality of Minimalism

Richard Serra Dies
Richard Serra, Torqued Ellipses Series (1996) installation view at Dia Beacon. Source: Zarastro Art

A prominent sculptor recognized for his monumental steel works that epitomized the Minimalist art movement, Richard Serra passed away at the age of 85 at his home in Long Island, New York.

Serra was born in San Francisco in 1938. His childhood experiences, including visits to his father’s shipyard, profoundly influenced his artistic sensibility, instilling in him a fascination with weight, balance, and transformation. Having studied under Josef Albers, the artist graduated with an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 1964.

Emerging after the Pop art movement, which critiqued consumer culture, Serra’s generation of artists revisited modernism with a rigorous inquiry into the essence of art and its potential trajectories. Serra epitomized this spirit by experimenting with unconventional materials like vulcanized rubber, neon, and molten lead, as well as by reimagining the spatial relationships of sculpture within galleries and museums.

Serra, who was dubbed the “poet of iron” by his contemporaries, became well-known throughout the world for his enormous steel constructions, which included ellipses, spirals, and arcs. His most well-known piece, “Tilted Arc,” was removed in response to public outcry after causing great controversy when it was first erected in Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981.

Gravity was one of Serra’s key aesthetic characteristics; this was most evident in his 1960s “Prop” installations. These sculptures, including “One Ton Prop (House of Cards),” showed the fundamental characteristics of mass and weight because they were supported only by the weight and balance of their constituent parts. Through his work, Serra questioned conventional ideas about sculpture and provided spectators with a visceral experience that went beyond standard art forms.

Despite his emphasis on materiality, Serra’s art often relied on illusionism to evoke a sense of mass and spatial displacement, particularly evident in his expansive drawings. While steel sculpture remained his primary focus, Serra’s forays into film, video, and other mediums showcased his versatility and conceptual depth. Notable works include his film “Hand Catching Lead” (1968) and the video “Television Delivers People” (1973), which critiqued capitalist mass media.

Serra’s art was marked by its austere and unforgiving nature, devoid of figurative imagery or psychological content. His sculptures, which frequently dwarfed human size, came to represent the macho bluster connected to Minimalism and drew criticism from feminists. However, Serra’s impact persisted, inspiring a number of generations of artists and winning him honors like the lifetime achievement prize from the Venice Biennale.


Contact us

Fill in the form below to inquire about this artwork.

Join our newsletter and grab your free copy of Best Exhibitions Around the World in 2024.


Plus, continue to stay updated on the contemporary art world through a weekly digest of headlines and our own new articles!