Pound Sign

New York City, pop culture, art and nightlife. Because nobody else is blogging about those things.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Serra's stuff is heavy. In both senses.

The first show that I ever saw at the Gagosian Gallery was Richard Serra's "Torqued Spirals, Toruses and Spheres" in the fall of 2001. It was also one of the first significant exhibitions of contemporary art I experienced here, within just a few months of moving to the city. I was overwhelmed and frankly awestruck by it: in the cavernous space, walking among the towering, leaning, undulating walls of rust-toned steel, the sense of being engulfed within the two-story spiral mazes, or the forms shaped like the bows of ship hulls, bearing down on me. It was an exhilarating sense of what art could be on such a scale that felt triumphant, truly monumental, and also terrifying in its sheer size and leaning weight. With the site of the World Trade Center still smoking, always in our minds, Serra's soaring arcs of standing steel took on an added metaphorical heft to go along with their actual foreboding bulk: did they symbolize the precariousness of outsized human effort, or its sturdy longevity? They certainly evoked those iconic grids of smashed steel stabbing out of the rubble at ground zero. All in all a powerful experience that has stuck with me since.

Gagosian is next door to my office now, five years later. A new show of Serra's big steel works opens tonight. Over the last week and a half, I've walked past the Gallery's opened loading door every day, watching the massive installation effort taking place. Huge flat bed trucks parked in front of our building, carrying one single plate of his steel works at a time, waiting to be hoisted into place by a collection of industrial cranes and moving machines, while a small army of installers put in and take out walls to accomodate them in Gagosian's hanger-like space. Watching all of this take shape, I find myself struck by a sense of...absurdity. The ridiculous scale and expense of the exercise is my first thought as I make my way through a veritable construction zone. I've found myself thinking about this-the shift in my perception. I'm not awestruck by it anymore. Clearly, I'm a different person-during that first show, I was a first year grad-student, new from Ohio; now I work in the contemporary art field and I'm surrounded by it every day. Of course my perception has shifted. But it's making me wonder if my knowledge and personal experience with the business side of this business and the cynicism that goes with it has simply lessened my ability to be truly transported by the experience of a work of contemporary art. I sincerely hope not.

I know a lot more about Serra and his work now too-context has its upsides and downsides. The only thing I know for sure is that I'll go see the show, and hope for the same feeling of exhilaration combined with discomfort that I got almost five years ago. Well, I'm realistic-how about a relative proportion of that same feeling?