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Massive Sculptures

Richard Serra — Man of Steel

Sculptor Richard Serra receives the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts.


En español | When the 2010 winner of Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts was announced, El País newspaper said that with the awarding of the prize, “the love story between Richard Serra and Spain had reached its zenith.”

Serra, a U.S.-born, world-renowned sculptor, already had developed a strong relationship with his father’s native country. “I feel a connection … to the Spanish tradition; from Picasso to Oteiza, from Velázquez to Zubarán,” says the artist, 70, who is scheduled to accept the award October 22, 2010, at a ceremony in Oviedo, Spain.

And the nation loves him back, having bestowed upon the sculptor three other major prizes since 2005. His enormous sculptures of rolled COR-TEN steel tower above other artwork in Spain’s major museums and form the core of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. Until now, however, the Prince of Asturias Award had eluded Serra, who had been nominated four times for the prize.

Serra’s twisted, snaking, standing metal panels are meant to be experienced from inside and out, not seen from just one viewpoint.

In recent years, Serra’s exhibits have drawn crowds to museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Grand Palais in Paris. The prize doesn’t surprise Carmen Gimenez, curator of 20th-century art for Guggenheim museums worldwide. “For me, he is the best sculptor in the world,” she says. “He is number one.” 

Serra’s twisted, snaking, standing metal panels are meant to be experienced from inside and out, not seen from just one viewpoint. Unlike with other modern art, viewers of Serra’s work are forced to consider their own space and role in the sculptures, Gimenez says. 

The sculptor reflects on how his work was affected by his early California days, when he could speak Spanish, a language he says he later lost. “I was raised in a large area of sand dunes by the sea,” he says, “which influenced how I came to understand a personal definition of space.”

He also talks about his first glimpse in the 1960s of the 17th-century Las Meninas, or The Maids of Honor, by Diego Velázquez in the Prado Museum in Madrid. “I looked at it for a long time before it hit me that I was an extension of the painting,” Serra told The Guardian of London in 2008. “In my later work … the [viewer’s] experience becomes the content …  That’s really what I’ve been dealing with ever since...”

Serra had visited Spain in 1965–66, while on a Fulbright fellowship he received after graduate studies at the Yale School of Art and Architecture and undergraduate years at the University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Santa Barbara. In the late 1960s, he arrived in New York City, along with some Yale classmates, such as artist Chuck Close. Serra was influenced by minimalists who had created stark installations of bricks and other industrial objects.

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