Richard Serra, icon of minimalist sculpture, dead at 85

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The art world is mourning the loss of the legendary minimalist sculptor Richard Serra, who has died at the age of 85. Serra, known mostly for his huge steel sculptures, was constantly pushing the boundaries of sculpture and modern art, spearheading the minimalist movement and producing a range of uncompromising, original works. 

According to the artist’s lawyer, John Silberman, Serra died in his home in New York on March 26th, with the official cause of death has been listed as pneumonia. Although he was born in San Francisco in 1938, the sculptor has spent much of his life among the concrete jungle of New York, becoming an intrinsic part of the underground art scene during the 1960s.

It was during his early days in New York, after moving there in 1966, that Richard Serra first began pushing the envelope of sculpture, experimenting with materials like rubber, neon and lead. Subverting expectations of traditional sculpture, and broadening the definitions of the artform, Serra worked tirelessly to find his voice within the saturated artistic world of New York. Eventually, he stumbled upon the work which would go on to define his career.

His experimentation in the New York underground gave way to a fascination with the industrial world. Serra became infatuated by materials that would often go overlooked in the world of art. This appreciation for the overlooked eventually led to the creation of huge, minimalist works created with steel. It was works like these which Serra is best remembered for.

Today, the most prominent examples of his steel sculptures – the series dubbed The Matter of Time – sit in the main hall of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.

The use of oxidised steel to create these gargantuan sculptures means that the work is constantly evolving, and will continue to change and develop well into the future, despite the death of the artist. 

Much of his work was designed for very specific sites and landscapes, making them difficult to move around or tour – like you would expect for the works of most prominent artists.

However, the inability to move Serra’s work has a profound effect on its interpretation. With a sculpture by Serra, spectators need to view it in the surrounding context in which the artist first envisioned the piece, leading to a greater understanding of the work as a whole. 

After initially being dismissed by the art world, Serra became increasingly revered throughout his life. The sculptor remained active well into his later years, debuting a show at New York’s Gagosian Gallery in 2019, to great acclaim. It is unlikely the world of sculpture will ever experience someone quite as radical or complex as Richard Serra ever again.

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