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Inside Out, A New Sculpture by Artist Richard Serra

Published on
December 6

The new sculpture by artist Richard Serra, on exhibit at the New York City Gagosian Art Gallery until February 8, is an exceptional occasion to experience the subtle effect of space alteration on our senses. Inside Out, installed at 522 W 21st Street, is a large-scale volume of steel that dwarfs the gallery space to a point where there is no single, immediately perceivable image. It is made of curved plates 13’2” high with exterior dimensions of 80’9” x 40’2”. A walk inside the giant sculpture is an ongoing changeable labyrinth, from a narrow claustrophobic stretch obstructed by a mass of steel, to a spacious cylindrical room of impossible angles, to a dead end.

Over the years I have learned to pay attention to the emotions that certain sculptures and public installations produce on me. Disturbance, grief, joy, shame, agitation, embarrassment, or emptiness, are possible sentiments that come up when I am exposed openhearted to art. These aesthetic experiences are subjective, as they occur spontaneously in a silent dialogue that is both intimate and non-transferrable. However, the artwork of Richard Serra is distinct in that the frame of mind it provokes constitutes part of the artist’s oeuvre.

The sculpture intentionally creates discrepancies between the visual and the vestibular (balance) inputs, resulting in a sensory mismatch that leads to spatial disorientation (Melchor J. Antunano, M.D.). Our natural ability to maintain our body oriented in relation to the surrounding environment is challenged by Richard Serra. However, there is something else beyond the body’s senses that he disrupts. His sculpture leaves us amazed, in awe and wonder. The mass of steel is colossal, immeasurable, and boundless, but it contains us, it holds us without judgment.

Artist Michael Heizer, a contemporary of Richard Serra, that like him came of age during the 1960s and 70s, explained this effect in an interview with Julia Brown in 1984: “It is interesting to build a sculpture that attempts to create an atmosphere of awe. Small works are said to do this but it is not my experience. Immense, architectural sized sculpture creates both the object and the atmosphere. Awe is a state of mind equivalent to religious experience. I think if people feel commitment they feel something has been transcendent”. Inside Out is first a tangible and visible thing, immense sheets of steel bent into each other composing ellipses and curved walls. Nevertheless, it is also an unprecedented space, at times tense, that subtlety will confront your body and your mental state. I highly recommend you take the time to visit Gagosian Gallery before the exhibition closes on February 8, and experience the awe and wonder of Richard Serra.