Richard Serra (American, b. San Francisco 1939)
Two Cuts, 1971
Hot rolled steel
Three slabs, overall: 5 3/8 x 23 1/16 x 120 5/8 in. (13.7 x 58.5 x 306.4 cm)1
National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Plan and funds from an anonymous donor, 1974
The physical properties of sculpture and its procedures of fabrication and viewing are the subject of Richard Serra's work. In Two Cuts, the enormous weight of the hot rolled steel (4,256 pounds), the act of cutting, and the force of gravity "are" the work. The thinner slab falls to the ground, unable to support its own weight, while the greater thicknesses of the two standing cuts are precisely what permits them to stand.
Since the mid 1960s, the work of Richard Serra has exemplified the practice of sculpture as a protracted investigation of process. In response to sculpture's traditional project of creating finite forms for aesthetic delectation, Serra and other young sculptors of the mid '60s and ‘70s devised a sculptural practice that stressed the act of working with materials of a specific, physical character, and the act of viewing the work under specific conditions of installation.
Among several aspects of Serra's work that distinguish it from those of other, process-based practices of this period (from those of Hesse, Morris, Saret, and Winsor, for example) is its insistence on exclusively industrial materials and procedures, and its focus on the endless workings and effects of weight. "Weight is a value for me," wrote Serra in 1988,2
"…not that it is any more compelling than lightness, but I simply know more about weight than lightness, and therefore I have more to say about it, more to say about the balancing of weight, the diminishing of weight, the addition and subtraction of weight, the concentration of weight...the propping of weight...the disorientation of weight, the disequilibrium of weight...the movement of weight, the directionality of weight, the shape of weight. I have more to say about the perpetual and meticulous adjustments of weight, more to say about the pleasure derived from the exactitude of the laws of gravity. I have more to say about the processing of the weight of steel, more to say about the forge, the rolling mill and the open-hearth."
Two Cuts belongs to a moment when Serra's repertoire of industrial materials (initially rubber, fiberglass, and eventually lead) began to include various kinds of steel, the medium that would dominate his work from the early 1970s onwards. Many works, produced both before and after Two Cuts, stress the balancing and distribution of weight among different loci of support, as in the prop pieces of 1968 and after.3 In works such as Two Cuts, the act of cutting plates and bars of steel creates edges and lines that concentrate the forces of weight and gravity, and give those forces a strong pictorial dimension.4
Two Cuts is also inseparable from the environment in which it is placed and viewed. The work was originally intended to be placed outside, so that its long, low elevation and relationship to the ground would be cumulatively perceived in an endless series of approaches and addresses, not only from various angles, but within various frames of landscape. Serra also intended that the steel surface absorb the signs of exposure (rust, discoloration, and abrasion) that would naturally accrue from the environment. Two Cuts was installed on the north lawn of the Allen Memorial Art Museum from its purchase in 1974 to an unspecified date in the mid 1980s when it was moved inside to prevent rust. Two Cuts is often confused with a similar work of 1971 titled Duplicate, in the collection of Rolfe Ricke, Cologne (30.5 x 66 x 365.8 cm; on loan to the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany).5 Duplicate is larger than Two Cuts, proportionately longer in relation to its height and width.
Work (C) 1998 Richard Serra/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Richard Serra was born in San Francisco in 1939. Between 1957 and 1961, he studied English literature at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara. During this time he worked in steel mills to support himself. Serra attended Yale University from 1961 to 1964, where he worked with Josef Albers on the latter's book Interaction of Color. During the late 1960s, Serra traveled in Europe and met a wide range of artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Eva Hesse, and Robert Smithson. He began to explore the specific properties of a given medium--most often cast, rolled, or molten lead, but also rubber latex--and the relationship between the chosen medium and a specific site. In these early works, Serra was particularly interested in the process of making art, an issue that would become less important in pieces such as To Dickie and Tina (1969; collection of the artist), in which he explored the physical space and weight of his sculpture by balancing large sheets of lead against one another. In the early 1970s, most of Serra's works were fabricated out of hot-rolled or Cor-Ten steel, and he began to create monumental public projects, such as Sight Point (1971-75; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). The installation of one such monument, Tilted Arch (1981; Federal Plaza, New York), generated protracted public controversy about the merit of the work and its relationship to the plaza, and led ultimately its removal and destruction. Throughout his career, Serra's work has been championed by supporters as elegant and profound in its material and formal qualities, while his detractors have found the work aggressive and unappealing. Regardless, Serra's sculpture has been extremely influential for other artists and has played a key role in the debate over the purposes of public art, both in the United States and in Europe.
Serra, Richard. Interviews, Etc., 1970-1980. In collaboration with Clara Weyergraf. Exh. cat., The Hudson River Museum of Westchester, Yonkers, N.Y., 1980.
Krauss, Rosalind E. Richard Serra/Sculpture. Edited by Laura Rosenstock. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986.
Semin, Didier. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 28. London and New York, 1996, pp. 479-80.
With Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, from whom purchased in 1974
New York, Joe Lo Guidice Gallery, 1971-72. Group Exhibition. 28 November - 29 January. No cat.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1980. From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the Late Ruth C. Roush. 20 February - 19 March. Cat. no. 35.
Pincus-Witten, Robert. "New York" (Exhibition Review). Artforum 10, no. 5 (January 1972), pp. 80-81.
Krauss, Rosalind. Richard Serra/Sculpture. Edited by Laura Rosenstock. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986, pp. 94-95. (Here Oberlin's Two Cuts is erroneously titled Duplicate, and illustrated by a photograph of Duplicate, fig. 57.)
Sotheby's new York. Sale catalogue, 1 November 1994, lot 48 (Three Cuts of 1971). This catalogue entry erroneously titles Oberlin's Two Cuts as Duplicate (as above).
The steel was cut (by Serra) with a torch, as is evident from the irregular lines and ridges that run horizontally across parts of the surface. The sculpture weighs 4,626 pounds.
Black mill scale remains on much of the outside surface of the outer thick slab. The rest of the work has oxidized fairly evenly. A small amount of greasy material is present on the outside edge of the thin slab
1.Thin slab: 1 5/16 x 12 7/16 x 120 5/8 in. (3.3 x 31.6 x 306.4 cm); outer thick slab: 4 3/4 x 12 1/4 x 120 in. (12.1 x 31.1 x 304.8 cm); inner thick slab: 5 1/4 x 12 1/8 x 120 1/4 in. (13.3 x 30.8 x 305.4 cm) (H x W x L).
2. Richard Serra, summer 1988, Cape Breton, cited in "Introduction" to Richard Serra Sculpture (exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1989), unpaginated.
3. See, for example, Equal (Corner Prop Piece), 1969, lead plate and lead tube rolled around steel core, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gilman Foundation Fund; reproduced in Laura Rosenstock, ed., Richard Serra/Sculpture (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986), no. 58.
4. See Rosalind Krauss, "Richard Serra: Sculpture Redrawn," Artforum 10, no. 9 (May 1972), pp. 39-43, for an extensive discussion of Serra's figurations of line.
5.It appears that Serra did not like the photographs of Oberlin's Two Cuts on file at the Castelli Gallery, and instructed the gallery to use photographs of Duplicate for publication purposes instead. These photographs have since been used mistakenly as a reproduction of Oberlin's Two Cuts (see Literature) This error was noted by David Getsy (OC 1995), curatorial assistant, AMAM, 1994-95. See correspondence between David Getsy and Rolf Ricke, Serra's studio, and Leo Castelli Gallery in the museum files.