Richard Serra on the Blight of the Sold Out Show


Sold out shows might be a boon to artists today, but in the 1960s, it was a different story, at least as per Richard Serra, the artist known for his monumental sculptures made from sheets of hot-rolled steel, who was on hand today at the preview of his new show at David Zwirner’s 20th Street location, “Richard Serra: Early Work,” which opens Friday. The works in the show, though small-ish in scale, for Serra, and made from a variety of materials like vulcanized rubber, neon tubing, and lead — rolled, torn, and folded—foreshadow later works, like “Torqued Ellipses,” for which Serra is best known. We enjoyed the show very much, but were most charmed when Serra broached the topic of the cursed sold-out show.

“If someone came in and said they’d sold out a show, people would say, ‘too bad,’ said Serra standing in jeans and a blue shirt with his back to a window on an upper floor of the gallery. He explained that this was because that would mean the audience understood what the work was, which was anathema for the group that he was involved with—which included Carl Andre, Chuck Close, and Robert Smithson. “The group of people that were trying to foster a new language, didn’t want their work to look like any other work that had come before. They wanted to go around their predecessors, or jump over them, or erase them.”

Later, when pressed on the subject again, Serra elaborated. “If someone came into Max’s [Kansas City] with a white suit on and shiny shoes and said they’d sold out the show; obviously, if there’re collectors that know what this work is about, it can’t be any good.”

— Rozalia Jovanovic

(Photo by the author.)