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Constructing Space

Explore how Minimalist artists engaged with their physical surroundings.


One Ton Prop (House of Cards)

Richard Serra
(American, born 1939)

1986. Lead antimony, four plates, each 48 x 48 x 1" (122 x 122 x 2.5 cm)

Richard Serra used the simplified geometric forms and industrial materials of Minimalism. This piece is made of lead antimony—lead combined with the alloy antimony to make it harder and stronger for commercial sheet metal, pipes, and castings. Serra first encountered the material as a young man working at steel mills and shipyards. Like a house of cards, One Ton Prop is formed by one edge of each sheet of lead leaning against the other.

Serra made One Ton Prop (House of Cards) by reacting to the verb “to prop.” In the early 1960s, Serra wrote something he called “Verb List,” hoping, he said, to “establish a series of conditions to enable me to work in an unanticipated manner and provoke the unexpected.” He subjected materials, including lead, rubber, and steel, to the different actions on this list. About One Ton Prop (House of Cards), Serra has said, “Even though it seemed it might collapse, it was in fact freestanding. You could see through it, look into it, walk around it, and I thought, ‘There’s no getting around it. This is sculpture.’”   

An artistic movement of the 1960s in which artists produced pared-down three-dimensional objects devoid of representational content. Their new vocabulary of simplified, geometric forms made from humble industrial materials challenged traditional notions of craftsmanship, the illusion of spatial depth in painting, and the idea that a work of art must be one of a kind.

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

Resembling or using the simple rectilinear or curvilinear lines used in geometry.

The shape or structure of an object.

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AUDIO: Richard Serra talks about One Ton Prop (House of Cards)