"I consider space to be a material. The articulation of space has come to take precedence over other concerns. I attempt to use sculptural form to make space distinct" Richard Serra, 1998
Richard Serra's L.A. Cone belongs to an iconic group of monumental sculptures with which the artist made his name. Executed in the artist's favored material of COR-TEN steel, the industrial nature of the material is enhanced by a richly oxidized surface--the result of exposure to the natural elements of wind and rain that results in a beautifully variegated surface made up of tones of red, orange, yellows and greens. This oxidation process, fully intended by the artist, produces a work in which nature and object have become fused together as one. The gently curving curtain of steel towers over fourteen feet high, imparting an awe-inspiring sense of scale, whist retaining a distinctly human sense of balance as its curved contours gently embrace those who stand before it. With its vertical striations, the solid curve of steel acts almost like a veil, concealing a doorway into another, more secretive world. By tilting the sculpture slightly forward, Serra imparts the work with an almost imperceptible degree of danger that, although firmly anchored in the ground, the whole sculpture could topple forward. With its size, scale and beauty of execution L.A. Cone becomes almost existential, a statement about our place in the world and our relationship to the things, both natural and manmade, that are located within it.
The gently arcing form of L.A. Cone is one of the artist's most fertile, and appears in many of his most celebrated works that have graced public spaces around the world. These include Clara-Clara in Paris, La Palmera in Barcelona and, of course, Tilted Arc in New York. Using sculpture as a transformative device to examine a sense of place lies at the very heart of Serra's artistic practice. He once observed, "I think that sculpture, if [it] has any potential at all, has the potential to create its own place and space, and to work in contradiction to the spaces and places where it is created in this sense. I am interested in work where the artist is a maker of 'anti-environment' which takes its own place or makes its own situation, or divides or declares its own area" (R. Serra & C. Weyergraf-Serra, Richard Serra: Interviews, Etc.., Yonkers, 1980, p. 128). It is only when works such as L.A. Cone, with the industrial nature of the material, is placed in a non-industrial setting--be it public space or natural landscape--that the combination of material and execution truly come into play, and the space itself in which the sculpture is located becomes as much a part of the object's composition as any physical medium that Serra may have used.
Fabricated in Serra's favored medium of COR-TEN steel, L.A. Cone captures the paradoxes that are inherent in the artist's work. For Serra, steel has chameleon like properties in that it suggests graceful elegance, without signifying monstrous monumentality. "Steel is a special material whose production demands great craftsmanship, professional and technical know-how." Serra enthused, "The material has virtually unlimited possibilities for the differentiated, even the subtle treatment of both the smallest and largest objects, both the simplest and most artistically expressive forms" (R. Serra, quoted in D. Crimp, "Serra's Public Sculpture: Refining Site Specificity," in R. Krauss, Richard Serra: Sculpture, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986, p. 50).
The curve is Serra's raison d'être and in its graceful form he finds a way of powerfully and succinctly expressing the ideas that he wants to impart to the world. His work has been at the very heart of the new developments in American art since the 1970s. Undeniably minimal in his aesthetic choices (factory-produced materials, elementary geometric structures) he nevertheless, as Rosalind Krauss states, shatters the impenetrable cube of Donald Judd and Tony Smith and places himself at the forefront of other contemporary trends. Richard Serra belonged to two artistic camps, both Abstract Expressionists and Minimal Art, and in doing so stands at the crossroads where several current concerns come together. Standing before works such as L.A. Cone, Serra invites the viewer to enter this world-walking up to it, alongside and around the work, becoming absorbed into its monumentally and challenging them to reassess their relationship with the world.