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Richard Serra and the materiality of sculpture

April 10, 2010

Courtesy / S.F. Museum of Modern Art

Richard Serra redefines casting with every iteration of “Gutter Corner Splash/Night Shift” by flinging molten lead into the corner where floor meets wall.

In making “Gutter Corner Splash/ Night Shift” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1995, Richard Serra re-created a landmark work of 1969 that he first executed in Jasper Johns’ New York studio.

Johns gave the work – that is, the entitlement to its re-creation – to SFMOMA.

“Gutter Corner Splash …” commemorates an especially lucid moment in late 20th century American art. It saw artists such as Serra, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman and Barry Le Va leading a critique of the statuary concept of sculpture. That tradition in Western art treated the human form, and so, humanity itself, as the axis of the world and history. But these artists intuited that in modern times it had come to support a widely shared fantasy – which the digital revolution has since inflamed – of personal freedom as disembodiment.

Serra sought to reassert the materiality of sculpture and its making in terms that would provoke bodily responses from the viewer critically different from the identification that figure sculpture solicits.

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