Brancusi and Serra, together at Fondation Beyeler

June 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Photograph by Sidney B. Felsen © 2011)

Richard Serra sculpture at Fondation Beyeler

June 18, 2011

Last night, Sidney and I attended the reception that the Beyeler Museum hosts annually for the gallery exhibitors and VIP visitors to Art | Basel.   The light rainfall couldn’t dampen the attendance of the crowd nor its reaction to the stunning exhibition of sculptures by Constantin Brancus and Richard Serra.  There were numerous works by both artists that I and many other viewers had never seen before.  Multiple variants of Brancusi’s “Kiss” surprised us, and a magnificent room of Serra’s enormous Paintstik “Weights and Levels” drawings warmed our hearts, as we had related prints hanging in our booth at the fair.

Serra became familiar with the sculptures of Brancusi while living in Paris on a Yale Traveling Fellowship, and was deeply moved.  Serra returned to New York and a few years later presented his own work in three dimensions – pieces of molten lead splashed into junctures between floor and wall – in his first exhibition at Leo Castelli Warehouse.  Decades later, Serra’s sculptures and drawings have traveled to Basel, Switzerland, to converse with the legacy of Brancusi at the Fondation Beyeler.

The exhibition selects 40 breathtakingly elegant works by Brancusi that amount to nearly a retrospective of their own, showing the artist’s career as a cornerstone of the birth of abstraction through a mastery of various materials and presence in space.  Ten sculptures by Serra, ranging from an early piece in rubber to his characteristic steel curves, reveal how the artist once deeply inspired by Brancusi has succeeded in creating his own handbook of possibilities.

Serra was unable to return to Basel for this reception, however after overcoming the tremendous challenge of guiding the installation of seventy tons of steel, he sat down for a conversation with Martin Schwander, and it is available on VernissageTV (Artist Talk with Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler).  While explaining how he came to work in three dimensions, Serra commented that it was the only way “to be the subject of the experience of something in space.”  He also told of his coming into possession of a massive quantity of rubber, thanks to a local store going out of business, and admitted to writing down a long verb list of activities to do with all the material sitting in his workspace.  As a result, Serra’s expansive oeuvre has shattered the vocabulary of sculpture.

The exhibition is on view in Basel through August 21st.  If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the exhibition in person, you can take a virtual tour: Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra.

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