One of the most famous sculptors of his generation, Richard Serra is also one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Combining the action of Abstract Expressionism with the raw, procedural grind of Process Art, his sculptures recast Minimalism on a monumental scale. Recognizable for their patina—Serra’s favorite material is rolled Cor-Ten steel with an evenly rusted surface—as much as for their size, sculptures like Torqued Ellipses (1996-1997) at the Dia:Beacon count among the previous century’s most iconic artworks.
It’s not surprising that Serra’s massive forms have compelled museums to carve out spaces large enough to accommodate them. Yoshio Taniguchi’s MoMA expansion, completed in 2006, included a high-ceilinged, industrially reinforced second floor that supported a major Serra exhibition; SFMOMA's brand new Snøhetta redesign features a street-level gallery devoted to Sequence (2006); and the cavernous main gallery of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, seems as much designed for its eight colossal Serra sculptures as it is inspired by them. And all this despite the fact that Serra—a champion of public and site-specific art—has compared museums to funeral parlors. For an artist who has so tenaciously asked us to reckon with space (and ourselves) through sculpture, however, this recalibration of architecture seems fitting.