Why is the sculpture ‘One Ton Prop’ the summation of Richard Serra’s work?

Richard Serra - One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969, Peter Moore
Richard Serra – One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969 (refabricated 1986), Lead antimony, four plates, Each plate 48 x 48 x 1″, 122 x 122 x 2.5 cm, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1969
Photo: Peter Moore/artnet.com

Introduction

Richard Serra has undeniably consolidated his career in contemporary art through his many controversial works including his now well known installation One Top Prop. Most Richard Serra exhibitions have elicited debates and discussions. In some cases, some audiences have even sustained injuries and there have even been some incidences of death recorded.

This sculpture killed a laborer

For instance, in November 1971, Richard Serra’s One Ton Prop turned deadly suddenly when a rigger known as Raymond Johnson was trapped after one of the plates from the sculptor slipped from its frail support and fell. Unfortunately, Raymond passed away but his wife later filed a lawsuit against the artist and the museum. In the end, Richard Serra was exonerated; it was the fabricators of the steel plates that were found negligent after constructing the plates shoddily.

What Richard Serra is famous for

Serra’s pieces have always resembled architectural relics more than they have giant sculptures. Serra is famous for incorporating curved spaces and arcs, as well as many other elements of architecture in his works, such as in his well-known work Tilted Art, 1981. Like architects, Serra has also always designed his works in a manner that can be explored by the audience. In One Ton Prop, the audience could enter, walk in and out and interact with the artwork. The capacity to explore pieces this way allowed the audience to gain a unique experience by touching, feeling and in a way communicating with the works.

Portrait of Richard Serra
Portrait of Richard Serra, 1987
Photo: Serra Studio, New York / Nancy Lee Katz/exporevue.com

About ‘One Top Prop’

One Ton Prop, although deadly, was the outcome of Serra’s most mature works, managing to combine elements of weight, gravity, counterforce and other properties of architecture in the piece. The work, contrary to popular belief was not an abstract form but a sculpture. Serra constructed and designed the strips of lead and steel to lean against one another. As such, Serra did not use bolts or rivets to join the pieces together. He simply wanted to develop a sculpture that depended on its inner stability.

The meaning of the work

The purpose of creating the One Ton Prop was to use gravity to attack the steadiness and permanence of form. Serra established the conditions of gravitational balance where every part of the structure was necessary for the whole to remain propped. In the end, the piece was a fluid work that existed in a state of tension, which pointed toward the unchanging state of the being. It also helped to point out the emotions that human beings experience internally and externally in relation to their environment.

Video: Interview with Richard Serra

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