Section: Arts

Richard Serra sculpture will tower above students in the West Quad

Richard Serra’s sculptures have adorned a vast array of locations across the globe: the Qatari desert, the streets of New York City and the coast of New Zealand, to name a few. In June 2020, a new Serra sculpture will find a home in Gambier, Ohio.

The sculpture, a gift from Graham ’63 and Ann Gund, will join new admissions and academic buildings and the new Kenyon Commons Library in the West Quad. While the piece will be installed at Kenyon in June, it will not be open to the public until the quad’s construction is fully complete.

Serra has been active in the art world since the early 1960s. While studying English at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara, he supported himself by working in Bay Area steel mills. The knowledge of steel he acquired during this time inspired him to work with the medium to create sculptures.

Serra’s pieces are characterized by their massive scale: Steel cements itself into heavy angular slabs and curls into colossal sheets reminiscent of ocean waves. The sculptures dwarf the viewer, distorting their relationship with space and time. 

The currently untitled sculpture coming to Kenyon will consist of five enormous weathering steel panels. The 60-ton plates will stretch 60 feet in the air, leaning together into a seven-foot opening to the sky. Though unique, the piece will be comparable to “Connector,” a tower Serra constructed in Orange County, Calif., and “Vortex,” another tower Serra built in Fort Worth, Texas.

The viewer’s experience of the sculpture will largely depend upon the climate and their position in relation to the statue.

“If it’s a sunny day, it’s going to be one experience. If it’s cloudy, it’s another experience and if it’s snowing that’ll be different. You can make noise when you are in it and it will echo. It’s not just something you look at, it’s something you can interact with,” said Katherine Solender, Interim Director of Gund Gallery.

The statue will offer a place of unity to Kenyon’s campus. “It’s exciting in this context because there are not too many pieces like this in the context of a small college,” Solender said. “I think Serra likes the idea that it becomes a gathering place and that students and others around Kenyon would be attracted to it.”

Assembling the 300-ton sculpture at Kenyon will be quite a feat of engineering. A scale model of the sculpture was tested in a wind tunnel in Canada to ensure its sturdiness, and work on the sculpture itself will begin this fall in Germany before its transport to Kenyon in June.

Despite the challenges of engineering, the sculpture, once placed, will be something that everyone can interpret in their own way.

Solender explained that, for Serra, “there is not necessarily some kind of meaning; there is not a poetic reference. It’s not spiritual or religious or something for him. It’s what you make of it and he’s making a space for you to make something of it.”

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