Illustrated companion

Like Carl Andre, Richard Serra is centrally concerned with exploring the properties of materials and with finding ways of making sculpture which expose these properties as part of the meaning of the work. Serra's first works using lead were made by the artist tearing away by hand the successive corners of a square of lead sheet, so that the floor became strewn with a random accumulation of twisted pieces that vividly reflected an important property of lead: its relative softness as a metal. Lead's relatively low melting point was exploited in a series of works in which Serra threw molten lead at the join of wall and floor. At about the same time he began a series of pieces exploring both its softness or malleabity, and its heaviness. 'Shovel Plate Prop' is made from two sheets of lead, one rolled up to form a prop holding the other upright. The two elements are mutually supportive, held in place by the balance of their weights and thrusts in a gravity defying yet stable structure. Such structures, using large masses of notably heavy materials are powerful abstract expressions of mankind's fundamental preoccupation with gravity and with its conquest. They are also abstract expressions of the sense of awe that we feel in the face of those phenomena both manmade and natural which are incomparably greater than ourselves. In this respect Serra's work can be considered as a modern version of the eighteenth century Sublime. This is particularly the case in the works which Serra went on to make after this one in which the elements are free standing, supported only by each other, and are on a massive scale. There is one in London at Broadgate by Liverpool Street Station.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.261