Few in New York’s art scene command as much respect and renown as Richard Serra, a minimalist sculptor best known for his large-scale constructions of sheet metal. Blurring the line between art and architecture, Serra latest exhibit, ‘Equal’ premiered in May at David Zwirner Gallery on West 20th Street in Chelsea. Its premise is rather simple. The exhibit consists entirely of of eight corten steel cubes stacked into nearly identical columns. By our count, it might just be the heaviest piece of art the gallery has ever seen, clocking in at a total of 320 tons.
Serra gives no preface to the exhibit. The open-air, skylit space in David Zwirner that contains the piece only lists the name out front. The rest, they say, is up to interpretation. Visitors are invited to walk among the blocks, even touch them if they wish. The space brightens and darkens with the sun, having no installed lights, and any heat, absorbed by the walls or the steel, is noticeably absent.
As mysterious as the silent, nondescript ‘Equal’ is, the story of its installation is just as baffling. Serra’s initial concept for the design reportedly worried the Zwirner staff, who feared that the combined 320 tons would crack the gallery’s concrete foundations. To install the structures, the gallery essentially built a steel bridge from the street to the gallery, forcing the weight of the cubes onto the rigging instead of onto the concrete. After the first four cubes were placed, a rig was built onto the ceiling to lift the top portions into place. The crane system is custom built by Serra’s team and used for many of the artist’s works because of its lifting capacity of 400 tons.
‘Equal’ seems an unbelievably daunting venture, but among Serra’s previous works, which have included a single, 150-foot sheet of corten steel bent into a ribbon for the ‘Tilted Arc’ piece in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in New York, seems right at home. The artist, famous around the world for working in tons instead of pounds and ounces and known for such quirks as insisting on all photo catalogs of his work be in black and white due to the changing appearance of the naturally rusting steel, has been working since the 60s. ‘Equal’ will remain at David Zwirner until July 24.