In 1966-67, Serra penned a list of transitive verbs—a to-do list of sorts—published in The New Avant-Garde: Issues for the Art of the Seventies
(1972) by Grégoire Müller.
Many of these words describe the dynamics of some of Serra’s most important sculptures. To Lift
, for instance, is the title of a 1967 work, one that manifests the effect of that action on a piece of vulcanized rubber. “To prop” indicates the gesture behind any number of works from that period, from Prop (1968)
to Melnikov (1987)
. Even works with less explicitly action-based titles, like the 2006 masterpiece Band
, evoke many of the spatial and temporal terms on that list: to bend, to shave, to flow, to suspend, to gather.
The looming gravity of these works is key to appreciating Serra’s oeuvre. The artist had a recurring dream as a child—of a mass of great ships floating on the San Francisco Bay. Thus the macho, aggressive feel of sculptures like Backdoor Pipeline (2010)
—in a style that has been called “he-man Minimalism”—can also be understood as a way to shed or float above the burdens of Modernism. Rather than prompting you to simply observe, Serra makes you constantly renegotiate your relationship to an artwork that requires not only an artist, but also engineers, forgers, construction workers, preparators, curators, and viewers to participate. “How the work alters a given site is the issue,” he affirms
, “not the persona of the author.”