Walking Through a Sculptural Maze

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The New York Sun

Art dealer Larry Gagosian had only one thing to say about “Rolled and Forged,” the new Richard Serra exhibition that opened at his cavernous Chelsea gallery last week: “Just walk around and enjoy the show.”

For most of the reception, it seemed like the sizeable crowd was heeding that advice and ambling along – and between – the five new rusted steel sculptures that make up the show.

“Serra’s work invites us to walk around and sense the way the space changes,” Gagosian Gallery director Ealan Wingate said, adding that the focus on weight in the new work relates to the renowned minimalist sculptor’s work from the 1970s and 1980s.

Best known for large-scale public projects and his torqued ellipses – massive steel plate sculptures that dwarf the viewer – Mr. Serra has made work of different media and shifting scale throughout his career.

“This is the same young artist who splashed molten lead against the corner,” Mr. Wingate added, referring to an early work in which Mr. Serra, using a ladle, hurled lead into the space between the gallery floor and wall. “It’s interesting to see an artist who’s been making mature art since the late ’60s still making something radically new.”

Mr. Serra, who worked in West Coast steel mills in his youth, has been making rolled and forged steel sculptures for over three decades. “I’ve been showing mostly large curvilinear pieces recently, but I’ve been doing this body of work throughout,” the artist said. “This show was a chance to clear the deck and show work that hasn’t been seen in New York for a while.”

The new pieces, he said, all call “for interactive walking and looking.” The opening, walkers and lookers included artist Robert Ryman, Art Basel director Samuel Keller, architect Richard Meier, polo-playing collector Peter Brant, and Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg.

“Serra’s work hits you right in the gut,” Mr. Weinberg said. “The surfaces are really sensual but still tough as hell.”

Does that mean the Whitney – which currently features a vitriolic anti-war poster by Mr. Serra in its Biennial – is looking to add a new work to its collection?

“Our floor loads couldn’t hold it,” Mr. Weinberg said.

That won’t be a problem for the Museum of Modern Art, which is hosting a major retrospective of the artist’s work next year. As Mr. Serra pointed out, exchief curator at the museum, the late Kirk Varnedoe, made sure the new building would have floors that “could bear the load.” Mr.Varnedoe even had a special door added to the plan of the museum “to allow for the work to be craned in,” the artist said.

The Gagosian Gallery is notoriously tight-lipped about prices, but insiders estimate new Serra pieces start in the high-six figures for smaller works, with larger pieces carrying million dollar price tags. (Most of the work is expected to be acquired by institutions, rather than private collectors.) A set of five rolling 14-foot-tall steel walls exhibited at the gallery in 2003 was recently acquired by the Seattle Art Museum for $5 million.

Until August 11 (555 W. 24th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-741-1111).

The New York Sun

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