Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Richard Serra, out-of-round X, 1999
Paintstick on handmade Hiromi paper
79 ½ x 79 inches
Private Collection

April 13 – August 28, 2011

Organized by the Menil Collection, the first retrospective of the drawings of American contemporary artist Richard Serra will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from April 13, 2011, through August 28, 2011. Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective traces the crucial role that drawing has played in Richard Serra’s work for more than 40 years. Although Serra is well known for his large-scale and site-specific sculptures, his work has also changed the practice of drawing. This major exhibition will show how Serra’s work has expanded the definition of drawing through innovative techniques, unusual media, monumental scale, and carefully conceived relationships to surrounding spaces. The exhibition, which includes many loans from important European and American collections, features 43 drawings and 28 sketchbooks from the 1970s to the present, as well as four films by the artist and a new, large-scale work completed specifically for this presentation.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective follows the artist’s investigation of drawing as an activity both independent from and linked to his sculptural practice. The exhibition begins with his drawings from the early 1970s, when he drew primarily on paper with ink, charcoal, lithographic crayon, and black paintstick—a crayon comprised of a mixture of pigment, oil, and wax. Over time, his drawings increased in scale and evolved into autonomous works of art that challenged the notion of drawing as preparatory work.

In the mid-1970s, Serra made the first of his monumentally scaled Installation Drawings, some of which extend from floor to ceiling and are 10 to 20 feet wide. To make works such as Pacific Judson Murphy (1978), the artist attached Belgian linen directly to the wall and covered the entire surface with black paintstick. The Installation Drawings marked a radical shift, altering conceptions of what a drawing is and how it can interact with architecture. Serra’s drawings of this period control the space of entire rooms and alter perceptions of spatial relationships.

Serra has written of these drawings, “By the nature of their weight, shape, location, flatness, and delineation along their edges, the black canvases enabled me to define spaces within a given architectural enclosure. The weight of the drawing derives not only from the number of layers of paintstick but mainly from the particular shape of the drawing.”

In his drawings since the 1980s, Serra has continued to invent new techniques and to explore a variety of surface effects, primarily on paper. In 1989, Serra made a series of large diptychs. Several of the titles of these drawings—such as No Mandatory Patriotism and The United States Government Destroys Art—express the artist’s reaction to the removal and disassembly of his sculpture Tilted Arc, which was commissioned as a permanent work for New York City’s Federal Plaza. The exhibition will also include works from several of Serra’s drawing series made in the 1990s, such as Deadweights (1991), Weight and Measure (1994), Rounds (1996-97), and out-of-rounds (1999-2000).

In Serra’s recent drawings, such as the Solids series (2007-2008), the accumulation of black paintstick on paper is extremely dense and nearly the entire surface of the paper is covered in a layer of viscous pigment. To make these drawings, Serra often pours melted paintstick onto the floor and then lays the paper on top of the pigment. The paintstick is transferred to the sheet by pressing a hard marking tool onto the back of the paper.

As part of the retrospective, Serra has created a site-specific installation drawing for the Metropolitan’s presentation, titled Union. The exhibition will also feature Elevational Weights, a new drawing series from 2010.

Complementing the drawings will be a presentation of the artist’s sketchbooks and four films made by the artist in 1968: Hand Catching Lead, Hand Lead Fulcrum, Hands Scraping, and Hands Tied.

Richard Serra (b. 1939, San Francisco, California) studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, graduating with a B.A. in English literature. Serra then received an MFA from Yale University in 1964 and had one of his first New York exhibitions at the Leo Castelli Warehouse, in 1967. His work has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1977), Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris (1983), The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1986 and 2007), Serpentine Gallery, London (1992), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (1992), The Drawing Center, New York (1994), Dia: Chelsea, New York (1997), Guggenheim Bilbao (2005), and the Grand Palais, Paris (2008), among other museums.

Serra has received numerous awards and accolades for his artistic achievements. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received honorary doctorates from Yale University and other universities. In 2008 he was named a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Academy and was decorated with the Order of the Arts and Letters of Spain. He received the Praemium Imperiale for Sculpture from the Japan Art Association in 1994, the Orden Pour le mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste in 2002, and the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2010.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is curated by Bernice Rose, Chief Curator, Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center; Michelle White, Associate Curator, The Menil Collection; and Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The presentation of the exhibition at the Metropolitan is coordinated by Magdalena Dabrowski, Special Consultant in the Museum’s Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.

The 176-page exhibition catalogue features 160 illustrations and essays by Bernice Rose, Michelle White, Gary Garrels, and Magdalena Dabrowski, as well as contributions by Richard Shiff, the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at the University of Texas at Austin; and Lizzie Borden, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and writer. Also included in the catalogue are: Serra’s Notes on Drawings; an illustrated chronology related to the artist’s drawing production; a selected exhibition history; and a selected bibliography. The catalogue is published by The Menil Collection and distributed by Yale University Press.