Richard Serra Commission



NEW YORK, N.Y. AND BILBAO, SPAIN—February 26, 2004—The Board of the Sociedad Tenedora of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao announced today that it had approved the commission for a permanent installation that will include seven new monumental works by the American artist Richard Serra. These works will join the artist's 1996–97 work Snake in gallery 104 (the so-called "Fish" gallery) of the Frank Gehry-designed museum, creating a site-specific installation of a scale and ambition unrivalled in modern history. The sculptures will make the museum a required destination for anyone seeking the most concentrated experience possible of this renowned artist’s extraordinary and innovative work.

The production and installation is expected to take sixteen months, with completion scheduled for May 2005.

Funds for the commission are provided by the Basque Government and Bizkaia Provincial Council as part of their commitment to form the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection, which focuses on art from the postwar period.

At a press conference in Bilbao announcing the commission, Mr. Serra stated, "This is a commission by the Guggenheim Bilbao, for the Guggenheim Bilbao, and for the people in Bilbao."

The Installation
Richard Serra is renowned for his challenging and groundbreaking work, which focuses on the production process, the specific characteristics of his materials, and the integration of the spectator into the sculptural space. Mr. Serra is widely considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the Modern era.

In preparing the Bilbao installation, the artist created 1:12 scale models (1 inch = 1 foot) of the sculptures, which he has placed in the configuration he has planned for the Fish gallery. The models and the artist's commentary on them provide a unique way to visualize the future installation, and to attempt to anticipate the physical and psychological impact that it will have on viewers.

Each of the works is comprised of two or more bent plates of weatherproof steel, with heights ranging from 12 to 14 feet. The lightest work, made of two plates, weighs 44 tons; the heaviest, made of eight plates, weighs 276 tons. The total weight of the new works, which will be manufactured in Germany, will be 1,034 tons.

The Bilbao installation utilizes forms from Mr. Serra's recent series of Torqued Ellipses, expanding on the vocabulary he has used throughout his career, while going further to articulate the potential for movement in his works and his exploration of the physicality of space.

The installation is designed to enable the spectator to perceive the evolution of the works, from the basic form, an ellipse, to the most complex, a spiral. On entering the gallery, the spectator immediately penetrates the space of the sculpture. Moving through the entire length of the gallery, the spectator is immersed in the overall experience and, following the sequence of the works, becomes familiar with the artist's increasingly elaborate vocabulary. At the start of the journey, a simple, large ellipse houses a smaller one inside, thereby creating a double ellipse. The interior of one ellipse touches the outer plates of another, generating a spiral whose inner space cannot be anticipated from the outside. The last two works are built from sections of tori and spheres to create environments with differing effects on the viewer's movement and perception. Shifting in unexpected ways as viewers walk in and around them, these sculptures create a dizzying, unforgettable sensation of space in motion.

Mr. Serra has placed each work in accordance with the architecture that houses it, paying special attention to the possibility of viewing the interior of some of the works from the balcony on the second floor. The works respond to the architectural details of the gallery, such as the sweeping arches and skylight overhead, integrating Mr. Gehry's vision into the flow of force and movement. As Mr. Serra says, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is "the only place in the world where I could do an installation like this."

History of the Commission
From the inception of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 1997, the institution has explored various strategies to best utilize its unique gallery spaces for exhibitions. In 2002, a working group consisting of curators and managers from the Bilbao Museum and the Guggenheim Foundation submitted a proposal to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Executive Committee to devote the Fish gallery to a permanent installation from the collection. One possible way to implement this concept was to commission an ambitious, large-scale work for the space. Inspired by the 1999 exhibition in Bilbao of Mr. Serra's Torqued Ellipses, in which the Fish gallery was shown to its greatest advantage to date, Thomas Krens, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and Juan Ignacio Vidarte, Director General of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, entered into discussions with Mr. Serra and invited him to consider the project. The artist submitted a detailed proposal in October 2003, and it was approved in February 2004.

This commission is the culmination of a 35-year relationship between the Guggenheim and the artist.

Among the highlights of that relationship are the following:

1969: Mr. Serra's work is included in the Guggenheim exhibition Nine Young Artists: Theodoron Awards, and Right Angle Prop (1969) is purchased for the permanent collection.

1971: Mr. Serra's work is included in the Sixth Guggenheim International exhibition.

1985: Mr. Serra's work is included in the Guggenheim exhibition Transformations in Sculpture.

1987: Guggenheim Trustee Stephen Swid and his wife Nan Swid contribute funds for the purchase of Keystone (1987) for the permanent collection.

1991: Guggenheim Trustee Elaine Dannheisser and her husband Werner Dannheisser donate Melnikov (1987) to the permanent collection.

1991: The Guggenheim acquires the collection of Count Panza di Biumo. Among the works are 14 by Mr. Serra, including some of his seminal pieces: vulcanized rubber works such as Belts (1969–67), early prop works, and room-scale installations such as Strike (To Roberta and Rudy) (1969–71).

1991: The Guggenheim acquires Lo Savio (1985) at an Art Against AIDS (AMFAR) benefit auction in Basel. The work is purchased jointly by the Guggenheim and a private patron, who promises to donate her share to the museum over time.

1993: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum organizes an installation of Mr. Serra's works from the collection in one of its new annex galleries in the Gwathmey Siegel addition to the Frank Lloyd Wright building.

1996: Mr. Serra is commissioned to create Snake as a site-specific installation for the Fish gallery of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

1999: The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents Richard Serra, an exhibition of eight Torqued Ellipses in the Fish gallery.

2002: Mr. Krens and Mr. Vidarte invite Mr. Serra to propose a permanent, site-specific installation to occupy the entire Fish gallery.

2003: Mr. Serra stars in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, filmed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

2004: The Tenedora approves the Bilbao commission.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Acquisitions
For the period 1996 through 2003, the Basque Government and the Bizkaia Provincial Council allocated a total of 66 million Euros ($80–85 million) for art acquisitions by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The focus of the collection is art made after 1945; selections are made so that the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection will complement the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Among the 88 works that have been acquired to date, 83 are purchases and 5 are gifts. Highlights include:

Joseph Beuys, Lightning with Stag in Its Glare, 1958–85

Christian Boltanski, Humans, 1994.

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999 (cast 2001)

Four major sculptures by Eduardo Chillida

Francesco Clemente, Mother's Room (La stanza della madre), 1995–96 (site-specific work)

Jenny Holzer, Installation for Bilbao, 1997 (site-specific work)

Eleven major paintings by Anselm Kiefer

Yves Klein, Fire Fountain, 1961

Yves Klein, Large Blue Anthropometry, ANT 105, ca. 1960

Jeff Koons, Puppy, 1992

Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 1988

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #831 (Geometric Forms), 1997 (site-specific work)

Richard Long, Bilbao Circle, 2000

Robert Motherwell, Iberia, 1958

Three major paintings by Pablo Palazuelo

Sigmar Polke, Kathreiners Morgenlatte, 1980

Robert Rauschenberg, Barge, 1962–63

Gerhard Richter, Seascape, 1998

James Rosenquist, Flamingo Capsule, 1970

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1952

Four major paintings by Antonio Saura

Julian Schnabel, Spain, 1986

Richard Serra, Snake, 1994–97

Clyfford Still, Untitled, 1964

Antoni Tàpies, Ambrosia, 1989

Francesc Torres, Too Late for Goya, 1993

Andy Warhol, One Hundred and Fifty Multi-Colored Marilyns, 1979

Richard Serra
Richard Serra was born November 2, 1939, in San Francisco. While working in steel mills to support himself, Mr. Serra attended the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara from 1957 to 1961, receiving a B.A. in English literature. He then studied at Yale University, New Haven, from 1961 to 1964, completing his B.F.A. and M.F.A. Mr. Serra trained as a painter at Yale, where he worked with Josef Albers on his book The Interaction of Color (1963). During the early 1960s, he came into contact with Philip Guston, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, and Frank Stella. In 1964 and 1965, Mr. Serra traveled to Paris on a Yale Traveling Fellowship, where he frequently visited the reconstruction of Constantin Brancusi's studio at the Musée National d'Art Moderne. He spent much of the following year in Florence on a Fulbright grant, and traveled throughout southern Europe and northern Africa. The young artist was given his first solo exhibition at Galleria La Salita, Rome, in 1966. Later that year, he moved to New York, where his circle of friends included Carl Andre, Eva Hesse, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Smithson.

Later in 1966, Mr. Serra made his first sculptures from nontraditional materials such as fiberglass and rubber. From 1968 to 1970, he executed a series of Splash pieces, in which molten lead was splashed or cast into the junctures between floor and wall. Mr. Serra had his first solo exhibition in the United States at the Leo Castelli Warehouse, New York. By 1969, he had begun the prop pieces, whose parts are not welded together or otherwise attached but are balanced solely by forces of weight and gravity. That year, Mr. Serra was included in Nine Young Artists: Theodoron Awards at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. He produced the first of his numerous short films in 1968 and in the early 1970s experimented with video. The Pasadena Art Museum organized a solo exhibition of Mr. Serra's work in 1970, and in the same year he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. That year, he helped Smithson execute Spiral Jetty at Great Salt Lake in Utah; Mr. Serra, however, was less intrigued by the vast American landscape than by urban sites, and in 1970 he installed a piece on a dead-end street in the Bronx. He received the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 1975 and traveled to Spain to study Mozarabic architecture in 1982.

Mr. Serra was honored with solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1977, the Kunsthalle Tübingen and Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany, 1978; the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1984; the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1985; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986; and the Stedelijk Van Abbesmuseum in Eindhoven, 1988. The 1990s saw further honors for Mr. Serra's work: a sculpture exhibition at the Kunsthaus, Zurich in 1990; a retrospective of his drawings at the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht; the Wilhelm Lehmbruck prize for sculpture in Duisburg in 1991; and the following year, a retrospective at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and an exhibition of sculpture at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. In 1993, Mr. Serra was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1994, he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale by the Japan Art Association and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland. In 1997-98, his Torqued Ellipses (1997) were exhibited at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York, followed by expanded presentations at the Geffen Contemporary, MoCA, Los Angeles in 1998, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 1999. In 2000 Mr. Serra's Torqued Ellipses won him the Gold Lion award for contemporary art at the 49th Venice Biennale. In 2001, Mr. Serra received the Gold Medal for Sculpture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2002 was elected to the Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste in Germany. He continues to produce large-scale steel structures for sites both in the United States and Europe. Mr. Serra and his wife, Clara Weyergraf-Serra, live in New York City and in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

February 27, 2004

Museo Guggenheim Bilbao
Departamento de Comunicación Tel: +34 94 4359008
Fax: + 34 94 4359059

Guggenheim Public Affairs
Tel: 212 423-3840

Press images

Press Images

Download high resolution, press-approved images.

contact us

Have a media inquiry? Contact us for more information.