Interventions in Social Space: The TFT Review of Richard Serra’s Junction/Cycle
Richard Serra’s solo show Junction/Cycle at Gagosian Gallery’s 24th Street location houses two new sculptures, Junction, 2011, and Cycle, 2010. The giant orange structures, noticeably brighter than is typical of Serra’s palate, undulate in color and form. The color compliments the smooth steel walls that confront, but also comfort the viewer. The weatherproof steel structures fill almost the entirety of the warehouse-sized space with Cycle measuring 14 x 57 feet (at it longest point) and Junction approximately 13 x 75 feet. Appropriately, a quote from Serra to describe the show emphasizes space, rather than steel, as his primary medium: “I consider space to be a material. The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct.” The sculptures work to manipulate space, successfully transforming the gallery physically and socially.
As a sculptor, Serra continues to be interested in critical interventions in social space. The specificity of the Gagosian Gallery enables Serra to subvert the typical gallery space. On a very immediate level, the generally open atmosphere of a gallery is eliminated. The structures consume the space and break it up, rendering it unfamiliar. The popular show is consistently crowded, which at times can give Junction/Cycle the feel of an attraction or theme park. Walking through the most narrow pathways in the sculptures, I felt the need to stay in line or maintain an appropriate speed. It is easy to wonder how these works would feel alone. However, Serra’s work is always site-specific, so it is possible that he conceptualized the show with crowds in mind. In fact, the crowds ultimately work to his advantage. The incalculable routes and experiences available subvert social control in the space, and the experience of these structures with a large number of people amplify this aspect of the exhibition. You see people coming from different directions at different speeds. In this work you are limitless; in and out, around, outside, closed and open.
Entering the gallery, one must make a decision. There is an immediate entrance into one of the steel structures through a narrow pathway, but there is also the option to travel around the works, using a number of alternate entryways. The sculptures create a labyrinthine experience and are generative in the way that they allow the visitor to determine his own path. There is a consistent tension between open and closed. This dialectic, materialized in the fixed steel versus the fluid shapes Serra uses it to create is mirrored in the personal, physical experience. The narrow spaces, especially when crowded, can invoke a sense of entrapment, while the open spaces within and without the sculptures can be freeing, comforting or contemplative. There is space for reflection and space for movement and anxiety. The structures seem to be immeasurable as the curved steel walls push and pull you through.
The intimate spaces within the sculptures allow for an immediately personal experience despite the opposing cold steel surroundings. The monumentality of the works and the impossibility of grasping a whole also lends itself to full-immersion, rather than detached reflection. It is in this way that Serra focuses, in terms of the spectator, on experience, rather than one-way communication. Junction/Cycle showcases the transformative power of an object. Attention is given to light, traffic, smell, touch and audio. These become the manipulated media and the presence of the steel structures, rather than emphasize their own importance, expand beyond their own materiality.
Junction/Cycle is on view through November 26 and Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street.
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