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Language and Art

Explore the role words played in Conceptual art’s emphasis on ideas over visual forms.

To Lift

Richard Serra
(American, born 1938)

1967. Vulcanized rubber, 36" x 6' 8" x 60" (91.4 x 200 x 152.4 cm)

In the mid-1960s Richard Serra began experimenting with nontraditional art materials like fiberglass, neon, and rubber, and also with the language involved in the physical process of making sculpture. The result was a list of action verbs—among them “to roll, to crease, to curve”—that Serra compiled, wrote on paper, and then enacted on the materials he had collected in his studio.

This work, made from discarded rubber recovered from a warehouse in lower Manhattan, is a result of the rubber’s unique response to the artist’s enacting of the action verb “to lift.” As Serra later explained, “It struck me that instead of thinking what a sculpture is going to be and how you’re going to do it compositionally, what if you just enacted those verbs in relation to a material, and didn’t worry about the results?”

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

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

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.