Richard Serra Drawing at the Met

The artist in his exhibition
My expectations were not high for the Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His monumental, simple sculptures hardly seemed likely to be very impressive in sketch form. But as the artist has mentioned in interviews, this body of work is separate from his sculpture–and his black or two-toned large drawings interact with the space and the viewer in some of the same ways his sculptures do and maintain the impressive scale one is used to in his work. For clarification, see above: those black walls enclosing the artist are the drawing.
Institutionalized Abstract Art, 1976

Altogether, walking through the galleries was a zen experience, and not just because the crowds from the Alexander McQueen show hadn’t stumbled in. The large shapes and neutral palate (more on his use of black below) gave focus to the experience of walking through the exhibition, and noticing how the works interacted with the space, and my space.

From an interview with the artist on

  • Could you tell me about your use of black in your drawings?

I think black is a property, a material. And as a property I think it’s the best way to articulate drawings where you don’t have to get into the metaphors present in the use of chartreuse or pink or anything else. And I studied with [Josef] Albers at Yale and I proofed his book and taught the color course and I really got it down to just dealing with black

  • And you see it as a material with a weight?

As a property. Because it absorbs light, it manifests itself as weight more than things that reflect light.  

  • How does this show relate to your 2007 MoMA retrospective, or how do you want people to relate the two shows?

It’s a different body of work. I’d like it to be seen as an autonomous body of drawing, good or bad, and just be judged that way, or be reviewed that way, or just be viewed that way. But if people start making relationships to the sculpture then they’re really missing the point. It’s about what they are in their definition as drawing. They’re not trying to redefine what the sculpture is, and they’re not pointing to the sculpture. They make spaces and places, but they’re not sculptural spaces and places in the way that sculptures make their own spaces and places.  

Serra’s comment on black having weight seems very true in this show. The works pictured here are mostly from the mid-1970s, when Serra started using black paintstick, a mixture of pigment, oil, and wax. He has continued to use paintstick to make thick black textured surfaces from the first ‘Installation Drawings,’ monumental works on canvas or linen pinned directly to the wall and thickly covered with black paintstick, to the work he created specifically for the Met’s exhibition in 2011.

One thought on “Richard Serra Drawing at the Met

  1. I like his sculpture better than his drawings. He said nothing new about the color black. I don’t know why he thinks he needs to justify everything. Sorta tiresome.

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