July 2, 2007

Speaking of Richard Serra...

In the language of art, work of this scale signifies two things (1) the aggrandizement of autocratic power and (2) death. These are the pyramids of the twentieth century. Perhaps each should contain a burial vault or, better yet, cryogenic chambers. (But, seriously, we don't care about earthly remains so much anymore. The secular version of the afterlife is "being remembered." And that's what museums are for.) Tell me I'm wrong because I love this work and it's important to me. Alert: The MOMA show runs only 'til September 10th. Given lazy summer attitudes, vacations, etc., that's going to slip by quick, fast, in a hurry. You can see a video walk through, along with Serra interviews here. Also - check out MOMA's video of Torqued Ellipse IV (1998) and Intersection II (1992) being installed in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (!) Sculpture Garden.

ps: did you know that Tony Serra is Richard's brother?


Anonymous said...

Excellent. Love the note on Serra's brother Tony. He's a hero. Interesting thing about his lawsuit (or "suitcase", as one of my poor clients once called them), in which he claims the government owes him wages for his prison labor, is that the 13th Amendment, which supposedly abolished slavery in our fair Land of the Free, contains an exception for convicted felons: they are still, and quite literally, slaves of the State. 'Course, down here in the good ole sunny South, in Florida, we didn't even have prisons until after Emancipation. Hell, who needed them, what with slavery and all? Then, thanks to various post-slavery strategies like peonage, debt-servitude, and prison lease-labor (under which arrests for jive raps like vagrancy would increase when private employers, having worked their leased prison crews to death, needed more prisoners for cheap labor), the state prison population didn't turn mostly African American until the 1980's. But, thanks to '80's-era mandatory drug sentencing, etc., it's sure majority black now. (The difference between slave labor and prison lease-labor is that under slavery, they owned you and had an investment to protect by keeping you alive. Prison lease-laborers were worked to death -- not much food and no health care, and then by contract the State simply replaced them at no additional cost to the private employer. Nice deal.) Under more modern mechanisms, our tax dollars still subsidize the provision of cheap prison labor to the private market, only now it all seems so, so civilzed. (Just like our tax dollars, as Haacke pointed out over 20 years ago, support the affixation of the Target logo on the Jasper Johns exhibit at the publicly funded museum; we taxpayers subsidize Target's PR coup. And I mean coup. Haacke called it part of a raw power play. Nothing funny about it.)

Anonymous said...

Serra's work can be so calming. I was recently in the bay at DIA Beacon by myself and it was nearly meditative. The MOMA show is also very beautiful. I am glad they did not focus too much on his more recent medium sized rolled and forged works shown at Gagosian this past fall.


Lastly, do not miss the two-part interview on Charlie Rose. I love seeing artist on television but now you can watch Mr. Rose's show online too.


Anonymous said...

I'll say it, Rex: I think you're wrong. You know I'm not well educated in the arts, and I'm old and dull. But what I see first is beauty, abstract beauty of the most concrete sort, on a monumental scale and with hard, cold materials. I read the piece in the NYT about the installation, and I see one man who, through the power of his will, skill, creativity, and energy -- and with the help of others, and in this culture -- asserts through this work: I can do this; this kind of thing can be done; and this art can create awe and be widely appreciated. This kind of cultural production is possible.

It's understandable that you see see power and death; for us, and because of us, it's everywhere. We are conditioned to see it everywhere, and it's there. But I don't think the pyramids are an apt comparison in regard to death and autocratic power. For that I'd first point to the new U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad. (I also am reminded -- I'm not sure why -- of Gore Vidal's essay on the ruins of Washington: what great ruins that stuff on and around the Mall will make.)

No, call me crazy, but in Serra I see resistance, an assertion, in the form of abstract beauty, of the proposition that contemporary materials, processes, and modes of production -- not to mention the market for this type of work -- still allow a person to make work of this stature. Work that, in its conception at least, does not serve any modern captialist master. I hear it say: I exist; I am possible; deal with it and take heart. There is yet a zone (a "pocket" in the New World Order, as John Berger, following Subcommander Marcos, might say) in which this work is possible.

Rex Weil said...

Combing the files reveals a Jerry Saltz review in the Voice in 2000 in which he has an anonymous "curator from a major museum" exclaim about Serra, "He's the enemy! It's big dick art. A lot of money and heft; portentous, guy, masters-of-the-unvierse stuff." Saltz goes on to describe the actual experience of seeing Switch at Gagosian in eloquent detail.

Anonymous said...

Well, then, curators on the payroll of major museums must be hard up for ememies, now that their employers have made such good friends with large corporations. (Talk about penis abstractions in the world of legal fictions!)
"Big-dick stuff" has to be about the easiest, cheapest shot one could take at work like Serra's. And this from a fuckin' curator/employee? Looks like a classic case of penis envy to me.

Anonymous said...

skip the cryogenics - transcribe dna to nickel plates and embed.