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Menil Collection opens Richard Serra Drawing. A Retrospective

The Menil Collection presents Richard Serra Drawing. A Retrospective, on view March 2 – June 10, 2012.

Richard Serra, Blank, 1978. Paintstick on Belgian linen, 2 parts, each 120 ¼ x 120 ¼ inches, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam © Richard Serra. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni. By: Basil Katz

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is the first retrospective of the artist’s drawings, as well as the first major one-person exhibition organized under the umbrella of the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center. While Serra’s sculptures have been widely recognized and the subject of numerous museum exhibitions, his drawings, which have played a crucial role in his work for over forty years, have not received a critical overview. This exhibition, with work from major European and American public and private collections, traces Serra’s investigation of drawing as an activity both independent from and linked to his sculptural practice. Organized chronologically, it addresses significant shifts in concept, materials, and scale, and culminates with new large-scale works completed for this presentation.

In the early 1970s Serra drew primarily with ink, charcoal, and lithographic crayon on paper. At first a means for the artist to explore form and perceptual relations between his sculpture and the viewer, the drawings eventually became autonomous works of art. They increased to human-scale, and bold forms created with black paintstick exploded the boundaries of the paper support. In the mid 1970s, Serra made the first of his monumentally-scaled Installation Drawings, the artist’s original version of the dialectic between radical scale and radical technique in an architectural context. Working on site, he attached Belgian linen directly to the wall. Paintstick, melted down and recast in large heavy blocks, was applied using repetitive and vigorous physical gestures. The resulting fields of black disrupt and complement existent spaces and began to occupy entire rooms towards the late 1970s.

Within the last twenty-five years, Serra has continued to invent new drawing techniques. In the late 1980s he explored how to further articulate the tension of weight and gravity by placing pairs of overlapping sheets of paper saturated with paintstick in horizontal and vertical compositions. In his most recent work, since the 1990s, he has embarked on numerous series with a remarkable variety of surface effects. Often working on the floor and using a mesh screen as an intermediary between the gesture and the transfer of pigment to the paper, he persists to achieve effects that offer new ways to consider drawing. In short, Serra is among a significant group of artists whose transformative work irrevocably changed the practice and definition of modernist drawing, and challenged drawing’s role in the traditional hierarchy of media.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is organized by Menil Curators Bernice Rose and Michelle White, and by Gary Garrels, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco MOMA.

The exhibition first opened in April 2011 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in October 2011. Roberta Smith, in her review of the exhibition in the New York Times, called the work “genuinely radical” and “physically unsettling.” –

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