Richard Serra


Born November 9th, 1939 in San Francisco, Richard Serra was the second of three sons. His father, Tony Serra, was a Spanish native of Mallorca, and his mother, Gladus, was a Russian Jew from Odessa. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1979. From 1957 until 1961, Serra studied English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He then studied and practiced painting in the M.F.A program of Yale University’s School of Arts and Architecture (YUSAA) from 1961 to 1964. Less than a year after receipt of his M.F.A from Yale, Serra earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Rome, where he married, lived, and worked with his first wife, Nancy Graves, a fellow sculptor. The two divorced in 1976. It wasn’t until 1981 that Serra married Clara Weyergraf, with whom he currently lives in Tribeca, New York.

Influence and Style

During his young adult life, Serra worked in Californian steel mills and in a San Francisco shipyard, where his father worked as a pipe-fitter. In a 1993 interview, Serra said his time spent in these industrial environments would have a strong influence on his later work.

“All the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory, which has become a reoccurring dream.”

During his time at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Serra studied under professors Rico Lebrun and Howard Warshaw, an Italian-American painter and sculptor and a Surrealist muralist, respectively. While at Yale, Serra was taught by abstract expressionist  New York School artists such as painter Philip Guston, and experimental composer Morton Feldman. Richard Serra is most well known for his large scale sheet metal sculptures, one of his most notable projects being The Matter of Timewhich he completed over a span of 11 years, from 1994 to 2005. Serra began his sculpting career in 1966, using fiberglass and rubber as his primary mediums. In his 1969 piece, Cutting Device: Base Plate Measure, Serra used a variety of materials, ranging from lead to wood, stone and steel, a slight divergence from his usual style of textural monogamy. Along with sculpting, Serra experimented with film, creating his first in 1968 called Hand Catching LeadNot long after, Serra temporarily worked with large scale paintings– in 1972, he finished Drawings After Circuit, using black paintstick on handmade Hitomi paper.

The Matter of Time

Cutting Device: Base Plate Measure, 1969

Drawings After Circuit, 1972

Minimalist Movement

The Minimalist Movement arose in the Late 1950’s and thrived during the ’60’s and ’70’s. In the midst of Post World War II America and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, the RFK assassination, the JFK assassination and the MLK assassination brought tension and distrust within America to an all time high. The Minimalist style was influenced mainly by De Stijl neoplasticism and Japanese Zen culture. A defining feature of Minimalism is that is devoid of metaphors and subjectivism– minimalist artists make it a point to use minimal elements in the lines, shapes, form, and color of their compositions. A piece by Richard Serra that exemplifies these qualities is his 1990 sculpture, “The Hours of the Day”, where he installed a series of Cor-Ten steel plates outside of the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, Netherlands.

The Hours of the Day, 1990

My Thoughts

I enjoy Richard Serra for his multidimensionalism as an artist, taking risks experimenting with everything from paint to film. My favorite aspect of Serra as a minimalist is his medium of  choice for most of his large scale sculptures– Cor-Ten steel. What I find so interesting about Cor-Ten steel is its self supportive nature, quality making it the perfect material for a Minimalist sculptor. That Cor-Ten steel develops a natural rust-like appearance when exposed to varying conditions eliminates the need for paint. While Serra’s specialty was with self suppoting materials such as Cor-Ten steel,  one of his counterparts specialized with a slightly different type of constructive material.

21st Century Comparison 

Larry Bell

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1939, Larry Bell is considered one of Serra’s contemporaries. Bell works with a wide variety of mediums, focusing mainly on glass and paints.Similar to Serra, Bell was influenced by artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement. What is most reminiscent of Serra’s minimalist qualities in Bell’s work is his use of transparency in his sculptures, an example being his 2009 piece, Minus Space, where he arranges three black cubes, each standing on their own clear glass column. Another common thread in Bell’s work of the 21st century is his use of cubes, which can be found in almost all of his later compositions. The cube is a structure used by many Minimalists for its simple elements: complementary edges, parallel lines, and clean corners.

Minus Space, 2009

Larry Bell, Untitled. 1994


Guggenheim Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. < 

Museum of Modern Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. <;



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