Serra's monumental abstract creations reoriented the view as sculpture in space.

Serra's monumental abstract creations reoriented the view as sculpture in space.

American artist Richard Serra died last week at age 85. His lawyer, John Silberman, confirmed to The New York Times that the cause was pneumonia.

Though now remembered as one of the most important sculptors to emerge in the 20th century, Serra initially sought to become a painter. Born in 1938 in San Francisco, he received a BA in English Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, then went on to obtain a BFA and MFA from Yale.

In 1965 and 1966 he travelled to Europe where he saw Velazquez's Las Meninas at the Prado Museum. There, he realised that he could not be a painter.

'I thought there was no possibility of me getting close to that,' he once told critic Calvin Tomkins.

Returning to New York, Serra began to work with industrial materials and unconventional forms of sculpture. 'Splash' (1968–1970) saw him famously throw molten lead at the point where the wall met the floor in galleries, while Thirty-five Feet of Lead Rolled Up (1968) involved unrolling and tightly rolling a sheet of lead.

Serra carried out numerous site-specific installation commissions in his lifetime. Perhaps the most famous and notorious is Tilted Arc (1981), a gently curving rusted corten steel arc installed across the Foley Federal Plaza in New York. The work elicited negative feedback from civic workers around the area, who petitioned to remove it from the plaza. Although Tilted Arc was removed in 1989, it continues to influence conversations about site-specific works and the nature of public sculpture.

Internationally recognised for his work, Serra was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. He was also acknowledged with the National Order of the Legion of Honour in France (2015) and the J. Paul Getty Medal (2018), among other accolades.

Serra's work is currently on view at Galerie Lelong & Co. in Paris until 30 April. A solo presentation of his drawings opens at David Zwirner, London, on 9 April. —[O]

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