I love Richard Serra's artwork. I think it's a tie between him and Andy Goldsworthy for the title of 'my favorite contemporary artist', but I tend to shy away from statements like that in fear of contradicting myself at some point.
When I worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, we were in the process of opening a new building. Quite a process, but one of the upsides was that we commissioned Richard Serra to create and install a piece in the outside space of that new building. As a result of him coming to install this piece I had a chance to watch how he works to install his work! A truly amazing and meticulous experience, here's a shot of him collaborating with his chief engineer.
But let me back up, Richard Serra is known primarily for his works which challenge gravity and become very physical to the viewer. Their breathtaking size and assumed weight of the pieces, for me have been some of the most fascinating and physically affecting works of art I've seen.
The first time I saw a Serra piece in person was at the Dia:Beacon museum in upstate New York. One of his lesser-known works, perhaps, was my first encounter. Union of the Torus and the Sphere, pictured below.
More later, but one last gem. At that same museum, I saw Serra's Torqued Ellipses for the first time. There are 3 right next to each other in a giant gallery space. As viewers we're invited to explore inside the ellipses which are gigantic, very tall plates of manipulated steel, really a feat of engineering. The fact that these sculptures defy gravity doesn't seem to keep people out from them, but for me there was definitely hesitation. Do I want to risk it, to enter this sculpture? I thought about it and I'm sure other people do as well. The Art:21 website says this about his torqued ellipses: "...bent and curved, leaning in and out, carve very private spaces from the necessarily large public sites in which they have been erected." That to me is another way the pieces affect you. As I was exploring, I felt almost as though being inside the piece, I was alone, it was private, a place where I could relax, be myself. Because of the sheer volume of the work you really do feel isolated from the outside when you're within them. Unfortunately you can't take photographs, but I bought this postcard as a memento of my first experience with Serra's work, and a hope of more to come!