Richard Serra creates exclusive Courtauld Gallery collection

Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, London.

Until January 2, 2014.

December 16, 2013
by Helton Vilar
Richard Serra, Coultard Transparency #3, 2013

US artist, Richard Serra has created an exclusive collection of recent drawings for London’s Courtauld Gallery.

First composed as a draft on canvas, the drawings are then overlapped by a transparent sheer that is painted with thick, black litho crayon. Both layers merge, existing as a single entity.

The effect is not only striking but confusing. From far away works look like a huge fingerprints, which upon closer inspection reveal a complex texture that makes them appear as three-dimensional, textured pieces of skin.

It may be just one room, but it is enough.

“People don’t know the history of my drawing,” the artist complained in a TV interview. Indeed, Serra has become most famous for his monumental sculpture work.

Four large sculptures are currently on show at the Gagosian Gallery, New York.

It was only in 2011 that there was a major retrospective of his drawing work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here he exhibited immense works, some of them displayed as if they were sketches from his portable notebook.

“He is, in fact, a more austere, abstract, hermetic, ‘difficult’ artist in drawing than in sculpture, and this narrowness sometimes accentuates his penchant for bombast and opacity,” the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote at the time.

Serra, born in 1939, is very present on the contemporary art circuit, especially in Europe and in the US. In the last few years he has featured in several big exhibitions, such as those held in 2005 at the Guggenheim Bilbao, in 2008 at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria and at the Grand Palais, Paris.

The Drawings for the Courtauld show us that a Serra piece does not need to be large to be remarkable. They hang like blocks of stone upon delicate walls, arresting us through the raw impact of black against white frames that turn works into an intense, yet elegant expressions.

Serra’s decisive, absolute depiction style surprises those whom consider drawing as something linear, or imbued with detail. I had to ask myself: where are the drawings, given the totality of the litho crayon colour? Is this was canvas painting or engraving work?

Then I remembered what Serra once said about his motivations: “I don’t draw the image, I draw the space”. Maybe the solution is to imagine what is outside of the blackness and not what is inside.