Richard Serra is perhaps the most recognized site-specific artist in the world. He boasts a career that spans four decades, over the course of which he has produced a series of large-scale public and private commissions in locations all over North America and Europe. Spark catches up with Serra as he installs an enormous public work for the University of California, San Francisco’s new campus at Mission Bay.

Serra’s design for UCSF is composed of two steel plates, each nearly 50 feet by 15 feet wide, installed vertically in the main pedestrian walkway. The monoliths program the space around them by dividing the 400-foot-long plaza into thirds. They lean noticeably by approximately 18 inches — roughly two degrees — creating a dramatic impact in relation to the adjacent campus buildings.

From a distance, the plates appear thin, like blades that cut into the ground, but up close, their five-inch width gives them a weight that the viewer may compare with his or her own stature. Serra’s choice of corten steel means that over time the piece will oxidize, first showing a reddish, then deeper purple highlights.

Installing Serra’s work was no simple task. It’s 160-ton weight, combined with the fact that Mission Bay is built on landfill, posed serious challenges to the engineers and installation crew. In order to stabilize the piece, piles were driven more than 200 feet into the ground — over four times the length of the Serra’s monoliths — to provide an adequate structural foundation for the work.

Born in San Francisco, Richard Serra earned both a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from Yale. He has had solo exhibitions in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne, Paris; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany. His work can be found in major collections internationally, including the Guggenheim Museum. In 1994, Serra was awarded the Praemium Imperiale by the Japan Art Association and an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as the California College of the Arts), in Oakland.

Richard Serra 5 August,2015Spark
  • Array
  • Array

Related Episodes


Masterworks

Experience the art of the masters in the Bay Area.


Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor