Painting

Laying Down a Couple of Tons of Lead

Richard Serra Belts 1966

“Different materials react to structure in different ways. Here you had a material, rubber, that if you hung it, it took on its own gravitational load. If you hung it in different ways, it would unfurl itself or droop or hang in different ways. Having been a painter, I thought, what if I just took one of Pollock’s paintings a painting that I really liked a lot, and I said, what if I tried to draw this Pollock three-dimensionally off the wall in strips of rubber? And every time a piece of rubber crossed another piece of rubber, I would fasten it together with a bent nail.
And I drew a lot of these and hung them from the wall one after the other. And they’re kind of perverse colors, off-ocher and off-pinks and off-blacks. And even though they may look lyrical now they were considered to be quite aggressive and quite abrupt, because there was nothing like that being shown at the time.
The neon light was not only to linearly describe what the piece was doing in another material, to give you a sense of, ‘oh, these pieces really are drawn in that simple way. I thought that would start the progression. This is where the first one goes, and the rest of them hang to the right of it.
I consider all edges and all volumes, a kind of drawing. The proportion of the room is a kind of drawing. I see the world as a drawing.” [MOMA retrospective on Richard Serra]

“I had looked at Pollock, especially in my last year at Yale, and there was a painting he did for Peggy Guggenheim, Mural (1943), that develops horizontally over nineteen feet as a series of vertical loops. It’s probably the beginning of serialization within abstraction, although no one saw it that way at the time; it also recalled the Mexican muralists. That interested me, and so when I began to use rubber I cut it into belts and hung them using Pollock’s painting as a subtext. The idea of hanging was influenced by Oldenburg, too—not by what he was making but by how he was using gravity as a force, as a forming device.” [Richard Serra in conversation with Hal Foster]

“The high-priest line of Minimalism includes Judd, and maybe Sol LeWitt more than Flavin. LeWitt’s work left me cold; it seemed too scripted. He gives you the prescription, you fill in the narrative, and LeWitt says he doesn’t care what it looks like. That seemed too didactic to me. When the Conceptualists were working on their manifesto at Max’s Kansas City, they asked me to join them, but I didn’t want any part of it. They said, “What’s your intention? We saw your House of Cards—do you think you’re making sculpture?” And I said, “If you want to propose definitions of sculpture, ‘specific objects’ or concepts, well, I don’t know right now.” So they called me a primitive, but then I thought they were a bunch of hall monitors. When I first splashed lead, one of them phoned up and told me I couldn’t do that—he had already thrown silver paint out his window against a brick wall. I said, “I don’t give a shit. I’m laying down a couple of tons of lead to cast off architecture.” They thought that language was going to supplant the perception of the object.” [Richard Serra in conversation with Hal Foster]

“So I took four lead plates— if you put the four of them together they weigh a ton—and dragged them up to my studio one at a time in the elevator. I thought by leaning them together and overlapping them at the top edge I could get them to free-stand, and when I did it looked like a house of cards. Even though it seemed it might collapse, in fact it stood up. You could see through it, look into it, walk around it, and I thought, “There’s no getting around it, this is sculpture.” Now, was it sculpture as sculpture had been heretofore known? No. But was I willing to stake my belief on what I was up to—on unattached lead plates propped against each other, weighing a ton, and always about to implode—to stake my belief on them being sculpture? Yes. Just as much as Andre was when he laid one brick after the other to make Lever (1966), and people yelled at him, “That’s not art.” The stakes were very serious and very high.” [Richard Serra in conversation with Hal Foster]

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