Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective

Mar 2 – Jun 10, 2012
Main Building

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is the first retrospective of the artist’s drawings and is the first major one-person exhibition to be organized under the umbrella of the Menil Drawing Institute. While Serra’s sculptures have been widely recognized and the subject of numerous museum exhibitions, his drawings, which have played a crucial role in his work for more than 40 years, have not received a critical overview. This exhibition, with work from major European and American public and private collections, traces Serra’s investigation of drawing as an activity both independent from and linked to his sculptural practice. Organized chronologically, it addresses significant shifts in concept, materials, and scale, and culminates with new large-scale works completed for this presentation, one of which has since entered the Menil Collection.

In the early 1970s Serra drew primarily with ink, charcoal, and lithographic crayon on paper. At first a means for the artist to explore form and perceptual relations between his sculpture and the viewer, the drawings eventually became autonomous works of art. They increased to human scale and bold forms created with black paintstick exploded the boundaries of the paper support. In the mid-1970s, Serra made the first of his monumentally scaled installation drawings, the artist’s original version of the dialectic between radical scale and radical technique in an architectural context. Working on site, he attached Belgian linen directly to the wall. Paintstick, melted down and re-formed in large heavy blocks, was applied using repetitive and vigorous physical gestures. The resulting fields of black disrupt and complement existent spaces and began to occupy entire rooms towards the late 1970s.

In the last 25 years, Serra has continued to invent new drawing techniques. In the late 1980s he explored how to further articulate the tension of weight and gravity by placing pairs of overlapping sheets of paper saturated with paintstick in horizontal and vertical compositions. Since the 1990s, he has embarked on numerous series with a remarkable variety of surface effects. Often working on the floor and using a mesh screen as an intermediary between the gesture and the transfer of pigment to the paper, he persists to achieve effects that offer new ways to consider drawing. In short, Serra is among a significant group of artists whose transformative work irrevocably changed the practice and definition of modernist drawing, and challenged drawing’s role in the traditional hierarchy of media.

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective is curated by Bernice Rose, Chief Curator Emerita, The Menil Collection; Michelle White, Curator, The Menil Collection; and Gary Garrels, Elise S. Hass Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

This exhibition is generously supported by Laura and John Arnold; National Endowment for the Arts; Sotheby’s; Eddie Allen and Chinhui Juhn; the Frances Dittmer Family Foundation; Paul and Janet Hobby; David and Anne Kirkland; Emily Rauh Pulitzer; the Taub Foundation: Marcy Taub Wessel, Henry J. N. Taub II, and H. Ben Taub; the Four Seasons Hotel Houston; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Invesco; Janie C. Lee and David B. Warren; Skadden, Arps; eEvents Group LLC; Scott and Judy Nyquist; Lois and George Stark; Texas Crude Energy, LLC; W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation; Michael Zilkha; and the City of Houston.

Photos: Paul Hester

Michelle White and Richard Serra discuss the exhibition. Prior to the program, a book signing for the exhibition catalogue was held at the Menil Collection Bookstore.