Saturday, June 18, 2011


Blank, 1978.
Photograph copyright: Richard Serra. Photo credit: Gianfranco Gorgoni.

One of the places on our must-see list with Hannah was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Finn and Lucy were very excited to show her all their favourite places in the Museum. They were so excited, in fact, that they told me to buzz off so they could show Hannah around themselves without my interference. Suddenly I had the opportunity to wander around the Museum without needing to compromise about what I looked at with the tastes of two highly opinionated teenagers (or nearly teenagers). I tried to hide my glee as we set a time to reconnoitre and ran off to see the exhibition of Richard Serra drawings - an exhibition that they would never have let me see in the way I wanted to see it.

The Serra drawings exhibition is quite near the Alexander McQueen exhibition; both are in the contemporary art wing. The Alexander McQueen exhibition had a line that nearly circled the interior of the museum, with waits of about two hours. The Richard Serra exhibition was blissfully empty, except for a few lost tourists who would rush through the galleries saying things like, "What? Another one? They are all black!" I guess the lesson here is that wild fashion has it all over minimalist drawings. But I think we knew that, right?

My own feelings about Richard Serra's work are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I find it so arrogant and macho that I want to hate it and dismiss him as, well, arrogant and macho. On the other hand, the work is so damn moving and speaks to me very physically about what it means to be a human being. (Shaking fist in the air) Why must you make me put tiresome qualifications on my dislike of you, Richard Serra?

When I was working as a public art administrator, the book, The Titled Arc Controversy was required reading. Since part of my motivation to work in public art was a desire to bring art out of museums and galleries and make it accessible to everyone on the street, I wanted to dislike Tilted Arc. There was something so bold about the piece. It was a kind of in-your-face, go f**k yourself gesture that was exactly the opposite of what I thought I was advocating. But I remember experiencing the piece several times before it was removed in 1989. It was amazing and powerful and beautiful in ways that were both grand and subtle. I find it hard to believe that anyone could stand near it and not feel something. When I read about Serra's reaction, it was equally bold and powerful and subtle and smart. I stood (and stand) firmly on the side that thinks it was wrong to remove it.

But the drawings. The drawings are not all equals in my opinion. My personal favourites were the ones done on linen, large rectangles mostly, with black oil stick covering every inch of their surface. The piece, Blank, show in the photograph above that I took from the Met website, is in the exhibition. I stood in the middle of the space created by the two drawings and took their presence in via my peripheral vision. There was a perfect point at which to do this actually, which makes me wonder if it was what the artist intended.

The experience was powerful. Again and again, I was deeply affected by the drawings - how they made me feel and how they made me see. They got me thinking about making new work, work of a nature that isn't really what I might call "my thing". That experience was powerful too.

So my dance with Richard Serra continues, even as I still would never put him on my Top 10 Favourites list. Maybe I need to make a little room for him there. Still, I shudder to write that - it feels so wrong. And yet...

PS. When I met up with the group again (at the Temple of Dendur), I asked Hannah how she liked the Met. Her answer, "If I don't get out of here, I am going to die." I think it was a little overwhelming for her.

1 comment:

Patti Blaine said...

I think I love Hannah for her honest reaction to the Met.

Coincidentally, on Thursday I was traveling to Chautauqua on the NYS thruway w/ former college roommate (of loom) delivering a painting of her brother's for a summer exhibit. We passed one of those wide-load warning trucks and then a semi hauling a long curving piece of rusted steel that was the sole piece (not counting the cables that bound it all together) connecting the heavy set of wheels at its furthest end to the truck that was pulling it. We looked at it in wonder as we sped past, and then turned to each other and said "Serra." On its way to the Albright-Knox? Or not a Serra at all. It was a moving experience regardless, whether it was merely referential or actual.

I'm looking forward to the day that I can take Kate and her friend(s?) to the Met and hear the words: "You buzz off." I'm so glad you had the exhibit to yourself, Robyn!