Richard Serra (American, born 1939)

Double Transversal, 2004
Etching on paper, two sheets: 90 x 48 in. each
Museum Purchase

The minimalist sculptor Richard Serra first drew critical attention in 1968 with the exhibition of Splashing, a work he made by flinging molten lead against the wall and floor of the Leo Castelli Warehouse in New York. Beyond the cumulative, three-dimensional form it ultimately took, this piece was about the process of moving lead through space. A year later, he created One Ton Prop, a sculpture composed of four rectangular lead plates--weighing a total of one ton--propped against one another to create a sort of open cube. Although static, the work suggests potential danger: What if one of the heavy pieces were to shift out of balance and make the work collapse?

Such physical intensity and attention to space remain hallmarks of Serra's work. Over the past four decades, he has reaped international acclaim for producing monumental sculptures, most of them wrought from rolls and sheets of Cor-Ten steel, that have a strong impact on the interior and exterior spaces they occupy. Seeing and comprehending these sculptures in their entirety requires viewers to move around them. Employing twists and curves both subtle and extreme, they convey an implied motion and, in turn, activate their surroundings.

Serra has also long been a printmaker, working out on paper many of the same concepts involving mass and space that he explores in his three-dimensional pieces. In 2004 he created a print series, Arc of the Curve, in which a nearly rectangular but ever so slightly curved black form occupies each sheet of paper. Tightly fit, these forms seem to strain against the confines of their white backgrounds. Every one of the prints bears a darkly confrontational mood. Printed on two seven-and-a-half-foot-tall sheets of paper that together measure eight feet across, Double Transversal is perhaps the most foreboding of them all.

To create this series, Serra worked with Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) in Los Angeles, a nationally esteemed print workshop and publisher whose staff has frequently collaborated with the artist. In 2003 he asked Gemini G.E.L. to obtain the oversized copper plates that would be used in Arc of the Curve, explaining that he wanted to attempt "prints larger and fuller than any previous effort." (1) The prints' rich texture is the result of rubbings taken of an exterior stucco wall. A customized vertical tank-and-pulley system was built to accommodate the acid bath for the enormous plates that printed the texture. Each plate was etched in acid for four to five days and then coated with more than a pound of ink before its impression was made on paper.

Like Serra’s steel sculptures, Double Transversal has an undeniable presence that impels viewers to move backward in order to take in its scale and forward to comprehend its sensuous surface.

--Emily Stamey, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum of Art

1. James Reid, "Arc of the Curve (2004) Workshop Notes," courtesy of Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles. 116
Richard Serra (American, born 1939), 'Double Transversal,' 2004. Etching on paper, two sheets: 90 by 48 inches each, Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas. Museum Purchase