BILBAO.- Thanks to a long-term loan by a private collector, a relatively recent work, entitled Plow, by one of the 20th centurys best-known artists, Richard Serra (born San Francisco, California, in 1939) will be on display to the public at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
Plow (1992) comprises two 2-meter by 2-meter weathered steel plates, each 25 centimeters thick and weighing roughly 8 tons each. For this installation, they have been placed five and a half meters apart. The new arrival joins a group of major works by the US artist already in the GMB Collection, in particular the series of eight large-scale sculptures entitled The Matter of Time (2003-2005), which has been on display in the Museums ArcelorMittal gallery since June 2005.
In line with the artists wishes, the sculpture is sited on the Museums back terrace, by the pond and the private car park, flanked by the curtain walls of the atrium and the titanium-and-stone walls of Frank Gehrys architectural masterwork. Plow will thus be visible from Avenida Abandoibarra , from La Salve bridge, the atrium and a window of the ArcelorMittal gallery.
With the arrival of this work by Serra at the Museum, visitors will be able to better appreciate a range of features that have remained constant in the artists career: aspects such as the relationship between sculpture and spectator, and the crucial importance of space, motion and time. Seeing a work on the human scale like Plow, one that stresses verticality, weight and gravity, in the same place as The matter of time , a huge group conceived by the artist for a specific site at the Museum, will give visitors greater insight into the innovative work of one of the 20th centurys leading sculptors. The matter of time returned to the idiom Serra had developed for his Torqued Ellipses , exhibited in the mid-90s and widely acclaimed as a major step forward in the practice and the development of the art of sculpture.
The essentiality of space
Produced by Serra in 1992, Plow was presented at a one-man exhibition at Madrids Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía the same year, and was subsequently shown at the 36th Art Basel international art fair in 2005.
For Serra space is a material, which makes the actual seting of his works an essential part of his conception and our understanding of what he does. Sculptural form is conceived and used as a way of differentiating certain areas of space and as a means of bonding the spectator to a particular spatial reality.
Although the two parts of Plow are regular in shape, both plates of steel are tilted at approximately 3 per cent and sunk over on one side, to give an impression of irregularity. This impression generates a slight unease and a sensation of imbalance, which impels spectators to explore and experience the sculpture area for themselves.
The aesthetic pattern of Plow, in which the parts face each other in parallel, generating sculptural fields that underscore verticality, weight and gravity, and the relation between the onlooker and the space surrounding the installation, is repeated throughout Richard Serras career.
In 1990, on the Isle of Videy in Iceland, Serra executed a sculpture project called Afangar , which confronts nine pairs of stone sculptures. Threats of Hell , from 1990 and presented that year at Bordeauxs CAPC Musée dart contemporain, is another major installation featuring sculptures (this time in weathered steel and with similar shapes to Plow) in parallel confrontation. Others include Stacks , from 1989, now installed outside a Louis Kahn building at Yale, and Plunge (1983), and his recent acclaimed exhibition at the Grand Palais, Promenade, comprising five vertical 17-meter-high plates of steel in parallel.
Richard Serra and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The long-term loan of a Richard Serra work is particularly important for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as it strengthens the special bond between the artist and the Museum which began before the inauguration with the acquisition of Snake, included in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbaos inaugural exhibition in 1997: The Guggenheim Museums and the Art of this Century . In 1999, the Museum staged a highly successful one-man show entitled Richard Serra , curated by Carmen Giménez, which contained sculptures produced by the artist between 1985 and 1999.
In 2005, the Museum decided to step up its stake in an artist who is, quite simply, an essential feature of the contemporary art scene, by acquiring The Matter of Timea group of eight sculptures in three spirals, a simple torqued ellipse, a double torqued ellipse, two other pieces formed by sections of toruses and spheres and the conical curves of Snakefor its own collection. One of the outstanding museum events anywhere in the world in recent decades, the acquisition of The matter of time was received with rapturous acclaim in the leading general and art media worldwide, including The New York Times , which classed the installation as one of the great works of the last fifty years or The Independent , which described the eight colossal sculptures as being of a scale and ambition without precedent in the history of sculpture.
Born on 2 November 1939 in San Francisco, California, Richard Serra took an English degree in 1961 at the University of California, Berkeley. That year he began studying Fine Arts at Yale University, finishing in 1964. While at Yale he met Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt and Frank Stella. After leaving university, Serra traveled around Europe for two years, going first to Paris with a travel grant from Yale, and then on to Florence on a Fulbright scholarship.
In 1966, he started to work with materials like rubber and glass fibernot much used in sculpture thenand returned to the US. There he settled in New York, where his circle included artists such as Carl André, Walter de Maria, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, Robert Morris and Bruce Nauman. The turning point in his career came in 1969, when he produced One-Ton Prop (House of Cards), which featured four mutually supporting sheets of lead.
Serra has received a host of awards and distinctions during his career, the most important being elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993), the Praemium Imperiale for Sculpture, awarded by the Japan Art Association (1994), a Doctor Honoris Causa in Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland (1994), the Gold Medal in Sculpture awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2001) and his election as a member of the Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste (2002).
Before the sculpture could be installed, the terrace had to be modified. The work, carried out in August and September this year, involved putting in two 20-meter-long reinforced concrete micropiles, each 220 millimeters in diameter, to support the edges of the two plates and keep them in place. Thanks to the micropiles, the terrace site can now withstand the 4,000 kg per square meter loads required to bear the weight of the two plates.