Kathleen McEvily on Richard Serra

The drawings on paper are mostly studies made after a sculpture has been completed. They are the result of trying to assess and define what surprises me in sculpture, what I could not understand before a work was built.1

A relatively small drawing by Richard Serra’s standards, Tilted Arc appears to burst off the paper, too big for its own confinement. As a representation of the sculpture Tilted Arc (1981, New York City), the drawing is fairly abstract. Recalling the horizontal view of the sculpture, a black trapezoidal image floats in contrast against a desolate white background. Yve-Alain Bois calls drawings such as this “echoic,” in that they “are reminiscences, their temporality is that of things past.”2 Executed five years after the sculpture, the drawing Tilted Arc denotes a remembrance provoked by the absent object.

In the same way that one experiences the tactile steel of a Serra sculpture, the Tilted Arc drawing mirrors that distinguishable tangibility. Like his sculptures, heaviness and weight are apparent and confrontational in this drawing. Moreover, as one is invited to walk around to experience multiple views of a Serra sculpture, the thick lines of the drawing lure the viewer’s eye from left to right, down to up and vice versa, emulating the arc.

Unlike Serra’s sculptures, which are often monumental and made of industrial materials detached from the artist’s touch, this drawing captures a trace of the artist’s hand. The concentrated black oil crayon highlights the effect of denseness against the white paper. Serra uses black as a property of the drawing: “In terms of weight, black is heavier, creates a larger volume, holds itself in a more compressed field.”3 In Serra’s view, black becomes a material substance rather than solely a color.

Though the sculpture Tilted Arc was destroyed,4 the drawing Tilted Arc prevails and remains forcefully on its own.

  1. Richard Serra, “Notes on Drawing,” in Richard Serra: Writings, Interviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 181. []
  2. Yve-Alain Bois, “Descriptions, Situations and Echoes: On Richard Serra’s Drawings,” in Richard Serra: Drawings/Zeichnungen, 1969-1990, ed. Hans Janssen (Bern, 1990), 28. In this essay, Bois divides and describes Serra’s drawings in three categories: descriptive, situation and echoic. []
  3. Serra, “Notes on Drawing,” 179. []
  4. To read all about the Tilted Arc controversy, see The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents, ed. Clara Weyergraf-Serra and Martha Buskirk (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991). As a further reference, see Harriet F. Senie, The Tilted Arc Controversy: Dangerous Precedent? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), which explores the history of Tilted Arc and the tactics of those opposed to the sculpture and the media’s superficial and sensational coverage of the controversy. []
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Sandra says:

This is a wonderful essay on Richard Serra. The writer truely understands this artist and was able to explain it to the non-artist person in a way they could understand.