Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years

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Richard Serra
(American, born 1939)
Torqued Ellipse IV
1998

Richard Serra. Torqued Ellipse IV. 1998

Weatherproof steel, 12' 3" x 26' 6" x 32' 6" (373.4 x 807.7 x 990.6 cm). Fractional and promised gift of Leon and Debra Black. © 2018 Richard Serra / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

NARRATOR: Please begin by walking around the outside of Torqued Ellipse IV. Its steel surface has been sandblasted leaving a layer of rust

When Richard Serra first became interested in bending plates of steel over 25 years ago, he felt he’d had little experience with large-scale curved surfaces.

RICHARD SERRA: I realized that there wasn't a large vocabulary of building with curvilinear forms, particularly in a city that's made up of right angles. The only curvature building I can think of any note in the city at that time was Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum. And I wanted to build something that would inform my experience.

NARRATOR: Walking around his curved pieces, Serra realized that the experience of the outside of a curve was very different from the experience within it.

RICHARD SERRA: If you walk around the curve, you don't know how it's going to round. It seems continuous and never ending. But the concave side like a cave, reveals itself in its entirety. You know what the form is.

NARRATOR: You’ll see that difference immediately when you reach the opening and step into Torqued Ellipse IV.

RICHARD SERRA: As you step inside, the piece seems to have a great elasticity as it moves around. It either leans over your head or leans away from you, depending on where you are.

You can see that the ellipse on the floor is exactly the same as the ellipse in the sky. As the piece gets higher, it rotates in relation to itself. But it's the same all the way up.

Initially, the way this piece was conceived was through a kind of misinterpretation. I happened to be in Rome, and walked into a church that was built in the 15th century. And I looked at the floor and I looked at the ceiling, and I thought that the simple ellipse on the floor was turned in relationship to the one overhead

When I walked to the center of the floor, I realized that it was just a regular ellipse that rose like an elliptical cylinder, straight up. What interested me was my misinterpretation.

NARRATOR: Serra became determined to create the form he had imagined. So he went to an aerospace engineer and asked him if it was possible to make such a twisted or “torqued” form.

RICHARD SERRA: And he said he didn't know. He didn't think so.The solution to that problem doesn't occur in nature and it doesn't occur in architecture. It's a formal invention.

When these pieces were first shown people who walked into them were startled, because it was obvious this wasn't something that had existed before.

NARRATOR: 
To hear Serra describe his difficulties in constructing a torqued ellipse, press 6341.

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