Review of Richard Serra, Gagosian Gallery, London

Review of Richard Serra, Gagosian Gallery, London

Currently on display at Gagosian Gallery at Britannia Street, London, Backdoor Pipeline, Ramble, Dead Load, London Cross sees acclaimed sculptor Richard Serra’s signature aesthetic extended to four very distinct sculptures. The works demand and promote their own unique presence and metaphysical interplay with the architecture of the space and the viewer.

Ramble (2014) sees one of the larger galleries intermittently fractured by a series of upright slabs of steel – some are taller than others. Their configuration, although sporadic in appearance, is in fact highly orchestrated, making one become disillusioned by collapsed horizons and chameleonesq distances, as one rambles between the works. The untreated surface of the steel is intensely sombre, its grey nakedness is in a state of constant transformation under the gleam of the gallery’s lights. The sides of the sculptures act as dissections, revealing the innermost history of the steel. Each slab, is therefore abstractly personified. One’s mind wonders, summoning scenarios and events that have led to the individual weathering of the steel faces and varying scars of the forging process.

Sensory interplay, which is characteristically produced by each installation of work, is key to Serra’s relationships with his audience. The inquisitive playfulness that is developed by Ramble is immediately expelled by London Cross (2014), where two 12 meter vertical sheets of steel jut out from the far corner of a smaller adjacent room, one on top of the other. The bottom sheet is perpendicularly dissected by the top sheet creating a cross. The work is not able to be completely realized at one time by the viewer, thus two access points exist for it visualisation. Thus the minimal yet charged views of the same work creates an almost incestuous echo. This, propelled by the fact that the structure appears to defy gravity, creating a sense of disbelief and high tend fear when one moves towards it, makes one aware of just how easy it is to distort a space that was neutral into one of impending disaster and the fallibility humanity.

One is further submerged into introspect with Dead Load (2014). A long white room, disrupted only by a rectangular slab where a larger slab of steel rests on top of it. The smaller, bottom slab – with an impenetrably grey finish, is only slightly weathered. The larger slab above it is heavily weathered having been left outside. The work’s solemn isolation is and top heavy form, having been left to the elements immediately becomes reminiscent of an obelisk or memorial. Yet as one investigates its chocking impact on the virginal dressings of the white cube rom, the work offers variables and options, an ability to invest. For instance, the red-rust-weathering of the top slab prescribes a feeling of paternal protection and sacrifice, a powerful association that reminds us of our unavoidable demise.

Backdoor Pipeline (2010) however, seems to throw caution to the wind, and provides a playfully surreal platform for contemplation. Two curved steel sheets create an arching passage of which the exterior is a similarly rusted red as seen in Dead Load. As one navigates inside the work, the darkened ambiance is preyed upon by the ending of artificial light to reach the viewer, reflecting off a tiger-like striping creating a shimmering water ripple. One feels almost as if they could be undertaking part of Neddy Merrill’s absurd journey in The Swimmer as the title Backdoor Pipeline combined with its sheers scale and constant arching, and one’s acknowledgement that they are in central London means that they are categorically unable to turn back.

Richard Serra: Backdoor Pipeline, Ramble, Dead Load, London Cross, until 28 February, Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, London, WC1X 9JD.

William Davie

1. RICHARD SERRA, London Cross, 2014, Weatherproof steel, 168 1/2 x 341 3/4 x 341 3/4 inches (428 x 868 x 868 cm), Photo by Mike Bruce.