Skullcracker by Richard Serra

The Skullcracker Series isn’t unique in motivation or manifestation. But what it does well is taking the minimalist notion of making the viewer aware of their presence within a space to the absolute extreme.

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Who’s the artist? Richard Serra

What am I looking at? Stacked slabs of steel

When was it made? 1969

Where is it right, right now? I can’t say for sure… but it probably lives in the dark recesses of Serra’s memory

 

Ok… Why is that so important?

Truth be told, Serra’s Skullcracker Series isn’t among his most important work. If you google his name, people don’t really write about it because at this early point in his work, he is still playing with traditional minimalist concepts. He’s now known for being a sculptor of the post-abstract expressionist period. That being said, I personally love this series because it’s so explicitly morbid and raw…

The Skullcracker Series isn’t unique in motivation or manifestation. But what it does well is taking the minimalist concept of making the viewer aware of their presence within a space to the absolute extreme.

The name of the series communicates blatant violence; the sculpture itself feels dangerous. It’s huge, heavy and puts the viewer in distress by how precariously the slabs are arranged. Viewers know that they may actually be killed if the slabs happened to not be secured correctly. Which really happened with one of his artworks. Yes, in 1971, his artwork, One Ton Prop, was improperly fabricated and it killed someone.

So although this series didn’t result in a death, it’s the rawest piece in the artist’s body of work that communicates something poetic and deeply troubling about the power of art.

In general, I’m drawn to minimalism because it’s fascinating that the simplest forms can communicate such profound truths. The title of this series foreshadows the death of an innocent man. This, as an outcome of Serra’s willingness to embrace morbidity and pain, might remind us to be mindful of opening your door to the devil.

Nothing but respect to the affected family.

 

L-Beams by Robert Morris

Who’s the artist? Robert Morris

What am I looking at? Sculptures made of fiberglass and stainless steel

When was it made? 1965 (Modernism)

Where is it right, right now? The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City

 

Ok… Why is that so important?

Following minimalism, Post-minimalism is best characterized by Robert Morris’ L-Beams. They are all the same size, but their positioning makes it difficult to recognize their homogeneity (similarity) because of how large they are. These sculptures are meant to bring the viewer’s attention to their own physical presence within the gallery space, in relation to the artwork. 

You can relate this concept to the feeling of “smallness” you might feel when entering a grand palace or a church. The fact that it can be achieved by a single object and not a building is what makes this work so important in contemporary art.

Similarly to Die, the L Beams demonstrate the artist’s ability to impose their will upon the viewer through scale, weight and physical presence within the space. The beams challenge the presence of the viewer through their large size and by extending into the walking space.

About the beams, Morris stated this:

A function of space, light, and the viewer’s field of vision […] for it is the viewer who changes the shape constantly by his change in position relative to the work. […] There are two distinct terms: the known constant and the experienced variable.”

The Diagonal of May 25, 1963 by Dan Flavin

Who’s the artist? Dan Flavin

What am I looking at? A bluish fluorescent light

When was it made? 🤔🤷

Where is it right, right now? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 

Ok… Why is that so important?

Dan Flavin’s first show was made entirely of fluorescent lights just like this. It was important because he specifically meant to use industrial materials in a fine art setting, which was a relatively unexplored idea at the time.

To me, these are the really interesting things to consider:

  • When the museum is closed and all the lights are turned off, this artwork is probably unplugged as well… then what happens? Does it lose its magic like in Pinocchio and it’s just a fluorescent light again?
  • Where exactly is the ART happening? Maybe on the wall, because the light diffuses in a nice way? Or is it the actual rod?
  • If we went to The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, what would we actually be looking at? Version 2, 3, 4? There’s no way that the original light would still have worked after all these years. Is that cheating?

Because of all these questions he provokes, his entire body of work has been very successful. People generally like his exhibitions because they become somewhat aware of the intangible and short lasting nature of light and color through the use of industrial materials. Usually, this awareness only occurs when people see the sun rise and set.

In more recent exhibitions, people usually go because his work is instagrammable.

Some writers, like Anna Chave, think that this artwork makes reference to an erect penis because it’s bright (SO HOT) and rod-shaped (OOH SEXY). She thinks he may be *ehem*… asserting himself in a dominating, perhaps even aggressive way because he’s showing you his 🍆 without your immediate understanding or consent.

Minimalism as a whole tends to be seen through this hyper-sexualized lense but in my opinion, that tells you more about the writer than the work of art. I can see how you might come to that conclusion but it’s up to you if you feel like you’re being assaulted.

Hospitals, schools, and other dreary institutions use fluorescent lighting because it’s cheap. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s usually very draining to be in a room lit like that. One of the functions of fine art is to inspire, so the fact that someone could make such an intriguing artwork out of an everyday object is pretty impressive. This is called recontextualization because he uses an everyday object in such a way that makes you think about it differently.

Dan Flavin is super weird about people using photos of his work so I modified it for the banner since this is for educational purposes, it should be fine. Definitely feel free to check out the artwork here.

 

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Edited 2-11-2018 to improve grammar