The Major Minimalist: 10 Things You Should Know About Richard Serra

Artist Richard Serra stands for a portrait at his show "Richard Serra: Early Work" at David Zwirner gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City on April 10th, 2013. "Richard Serra: Early Work" is comprised of works from 1966 - 1971 that signal the artist's ongoing preoccupation with space, material, and gravity that has defined his sculpture.

CREDIT: Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal

Iconic artist Richard Serra has earned a global reputation for creating monumental sculptures that balance on thin lines, dramatic swoops, and curved paths. His work – a showcase of minimalist forms in complex, gravity-defying shapes – has been exhibited all over the world in leading collections including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Centro Arte de Reina Sofia in Madrid, and Dia: Beacon in New York. Here’s our list of the top ten things you should know about major minimalist, Richard Serra.

1. He’s a Canadian resident.

Richard Serra was born in 1938 in San Francisco and currently splits his time between Nova Scotia and New York.

2. He worked in steel mills.

While completing his Bachelor’s degree in English, Serra worked at steel mills and shipyards to pay for his education – an experience that would greatly shape his preference for the material in some of his most iconic works.

3. He was quite the prankster.

In 1964, he studied for his MFA in painting from the Yale School of Art and Architecture, but was thrown out due to a prank he pulled on Robert Rauschenberg, who was a visiting critic at the time. The prank involved a chicken, a box, and a rope. Need we say more?

4. His studio assistant became a famous composer.

American composer Philip Glass, considered one of the most influential musical composers of the 20th century, was Serra’s studio assistant in the late 1960s.


image1 Image Left: Richard Serra, Snake (Sugea), 1994-1997, Photo: Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, Image: Right: Richard Serra, The Matter of Time, 1994-2005, Photo: Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa


5. He’s a Guggenheim Fellow.

In 1969, Serra had his first solo exhibition in the United States at the Leo Castelli Warehouse in New York. His first solo museum exhibition was presented in 1970 at the Pasadena Art Museum in Pasadena, CA. That same year he was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship.

6. The trial involving Serra’s 1979 sculpture Titled Arc is often considered to be one of the most notorious public art controversies in the history of art law.

One of the most controversial moments in his career occurred in 1981 regarding a site-specific commission at the Federal Plaza in New York City. was a 120 foot long curved wall of raw steel that measured 12 feet high and visibly sliced the plaza into two equal sections. Those who worked in the surrounding buildings objected to the piece, arguing that it blocked their ability to cross the plaza. After a rather public court battle, a jury ruled to remove the sculpture. It was sent to a scrap yard as Serra did not feel it could be reappropriated elsewhere.

7. Serra’s work is displayed in renowned galleries and institutions around the world.

His most iconic works include Fulcrum from 1987 at Liverpool Street Station in London; Snake from 1994-97 and the series of eight works of The Matter of Time from 2004, both at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao; Torqued Ellipses from 1997-98, a series of four works at Dia: Beacon in New York.


Richard_Serra_Hiram_Butler_2 Image: Richard Serra, Prints exhibition at Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston, Texas, Photo: Hiram Butler Gallery


8. He’s the recipient of the prestigious Golden Lion Award

In June of 2001, Serra won the coveted Golden Lion Award, presented as a lifetime achievement award at the 49th Venice Biennale.

9. Artistic talent runs in the family

Serra’s nephew Shelter Serra is also a well noted sculptor living in New York City. Represented by various, cutting-edge galleries, his work creates familiar objects, such as the Birkin bag, in ironic materials, such as inexpensive resin.

10. He may be pushing 80, but Serra remains a fixture in the contemporary art world.

Serra recently celebrated his 76th birthday and with upcoming exhibitions planned with David Zwirner, Gagosian Gallery, and others, he shows no sign of slowing down.

Featured Image: Artist Richard Serra stands for a portrait at his show Richard Serra: Early Work at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea (Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal)