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July 26, 2011
Richard Serra's mammoth 'Sequence': finally in open air and open to the public July 27
The installation of the distinguished artist's 235-ton steel behemoth required 23 truckloads of concrete and a 6,000-square-foot patio.
By Cynthia Haven
Richard Serra's "Sequence" at Stanford.
Richard Serra's monumental "Sequence," one of the distinguished sculptor's greatest achievements, is at last in the open air – just as it was always meant to be.
The Cantor Arts Center's installation of the 235-ton, contoured steel sculpture marks the first time the sculpture, created in 2006, has been shown outdoors. The work is open for a public viewing and walk-through beginning Wednesday, July 27.
"Sequence," part of the Doris and Don Fisher Collection, will remain at Stanford until it moves to its permanent location as part of the expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2016.
Serra's work blurs the boundaries between architecture, art and engineering. The curvilinear walls slant, creating a vertiginous experience as visitors walk through the two torqued ellipses connected with an "S." As Serra explained the disorienting experience, "The 'S' is a passage that reverses itself right in the center of the piece, and you might have the concern that you're walking back in the same direction you came from, but you're not."
Given the preparations to get the steel behemoth to Stanford, it's astonishing that the sculpture was ever inside. Transporting "Sequence" from Los Angeles to Stanford alone required a dozen wide-body flatbed trucks and specialists in rigging works of this massive scale.
An entire lawn on the art center's north grounds was ripped up and about 23 truckloads of concrete poured to create the foundation for a new 6,000-square-foot patio to support the sculpture.
Meanwhile, as it awaited installation in trucks parked outside Cantor, a specialist carefully hosed down the contoured steel every day as part of the treatment to "cure" the sculpture, which is currently a burnt orange color.
Eventually, after about a decade, the steel will cease to oxidize and will become a permanent deep, deep amber.
Preparations for the sculpture – 67 feet long, 42 feet wide and 13 feet high – continue, as the site is finished with a new lawn, fencing and lighting.
In a 2007 interview, broadcast journalist Charlie Rose asked Serra if he was pushing the boundaries of engineering, "Oh yeah," he said, "and pushing the boundaries of tendency to overturn and pushing the boundaries of what's possible in relation to the manufacture of steel."
Although he's neither an engineer nor a mathematician, Serra added, "I've actually made models where engineers have told me, 'That won't stand up,' and I'm showing the model right in front of us, and it's standing up.
"We're bending pieces that are curves in ways that you can't find in math programs," he said. "The torqued ellipse hadn't been made before. Something that rotates in its elevation, that doesn't change in its radius, hadn't been made before."
"Sequence" was previously shown in the exhibition "Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years" at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2007 and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 2008 to 2011.
During an interview while the sculpture was in New York, Serra rejected the notion that there was a "correct" way to approach his work. "This isn't here to teach you anything," he said. "It's your experience and the private thoughts it engenders that are your private participation with this work."
Access to "Sequence" is through the Cantor building. Admission is free. The Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday to 8 p.m. For museum information, call (650) 723-4177.