How Serra went head-to-head with the U.S. government
The horizontal diptychs are masses in relation to each other. They’re not about compositions or figure-ground. They emphasize the comparison of different weights in juxtaposition. I usually start a body of work and the work takes on its own needs. It has its own momentum, and the momentum of one work leads to the next, which leads to the next work. And at a point, the work becomes internally critical of itself. You don’t know if the first or second piece is resolved until you see the seventh or eighth. Then after a period, the internal logic drives the work.
The double-panel drawings coincide pretty much with the government’s destroying of Tilted Arc. They were my pushback series. You never know what motivates. Anger and fear are often as motivating as reinforcement and support.
Tilted Arc, a 12 foot high, 120 foot long arc of CorTen Steel, was a site-specific sculpture that was commissioned by the United States government and conceived for Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. Soon after its installation, some government officials who worked in Federal Plaza began to petition for its removal. In 1985 William Diamond, the regional administrator for the General Services Administration, convened hearings to determine whether it should remain in place. He hand-picked the five-person committee in charge of the hearing, selected two of his own employees and appointed himself chair. Serra argued that because the sculpture was site-specific, to remove it was to destroy it – and that destroying it was not within the government’s ownership rights. After a two-day hearing, the panel voted 4-1 to remove the sculpture from the plaza. Serra challenged the decision in court twice, but on March 15, 1989, the sculpture was destroyed. Since then Serra has been a major advocate of artists’ rights to protect their work.
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