On April 7, 2012, with friends, I traveled 80 minutes on Hudson Line to arrive at Dia Beacon. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Dia Beacon is a colossal structure hosting some of the most provocative works I’ve experienced, Ghostly words lead me through the complicated pathways in Dia Beacon

“What interests me is the opportunity for all of us to become something different from what we are, by constructing spaces that contribute something to the experience of who we are.”[1]

Behold, two formidable steel structures by Richard Serra.

The sculptures are blocs of sensation, compounds of vibrations, the sites of sensation, and the pathways of becoming, habituating the present, removing the artwork from the gallery and simulating a separate world. The space it occupies is secondary to the space it provides. The description of these structures will always be limited, because it is not an optical, aural, or visual experience to visit this piece, but a physical awareness. Curvaceous Con Ten steel gradually change color as the material oxidizes over 8 years, leaving the surfaces textured and multi-tonal. Serra is mathematic in concept and industrial in production: erecting massive metals from overlapping renderings of ellipticals. I am fascinated with these sculptures, and I attempt to explore this feeling through the delicacy of Deleuzean philosophy. What is the junction of Serra’s creative assertion and Deleuze? My interaction with the sculptures was vivid, teetering into the void of calm, a sort of spirituality.

Walking through the sculpture, the eye travels the path above, the path ahead, and the path below. The curved walls nearly met, and never part: dynamic. Entering the sculpture, step one, enclose, step two, open up, step three, breathe, step four… These hodological structures connote a physical experience that alerts me of my tangible present.

Richard Serra rejects a total implied meaning of the work; there is no transcendent, inbred meaning. I believe that Serra facilitates an environment that is deeper than just conceptual subjectivity. There is a sense of pathway, that in the journey itself, the experience is momentary. The continuous unfolding while inside or circling around a Serra sculpture suggests “[t]his idea that truth isn’t something already out there we have to discover, but has to be created in every domain.”[2] While Serra conceives and implements the structures, he seems to let them free, standing in galleries, as mediators. In Mediators, Deleuze says “Creation is all about mediators. Without them nothing happens. They can be people… but things too.”[3] As a mediator, these sculptures put spectator bodies into orbit. The artwork has an entrance that tails out into the gallery. For the spectator to approach the piece, it can be from the outside or to go inside: there is no clear origin. Bodies pass through these mediators based off of Serra’s notion that vision is “peripatic”[4] As I walked around and through these sculptures, I saw them as profound sensory aggregates.

Titan sheets of oxidized metal bend in convex and concave forms, each sculpture is deliberately an encounter within the gallery space. Here Serra’s work is positioned as an environment in relation to the confines of the gallery. These site-specific structures are designed with the walls as a counterpoint to communicate an enclosure, or an opening. The scale and expansion of the sculptures are in relation to the scale of the building. These reconstitute the gallery less familiar; the relation between the gallery walls to an artwork has been to set a platform, an exhibition of assorted works in a curated design. Serra is motivated to produce in order to broaden experiences. Serra’s designs protrude into the gallery ceiling and impinge on the institution’s authority of hosting an artwork. But it is not a competition, but gravity, and the spirals of the sculptures invite the viewer into a vortex of looking up down or straight ahead, eyesight can’t quite bend.

Animate Form written by Greg Lynn reflects on how an object becomes a vector. Serra’s sculptures at Dia Beacon are animate, dynamic objects, even in static mode; their trajectories are relative to other objects, forces, fields, and flows. They usher and reflect an active space of force and motion, involving the gallery spectators.[5] Animate form justifies the steel masses as bodies, and then the relation from the sculpture to the visitor can be identified as bodies to bodies; mediators to guests. While the structures have a formal simplicity, the structures have complex points of interaction or observation. It requires the viewer to walk around the piece, involving the body with the artwork. The walls have vectors, in directing the eye, and in presenting a magnitude of material. What is the sensation? What is the movement? How does one orient with the piece? The walls are vectors and the structures are mobile continents.

Serra asserts that he creates for a physical awareness. This is for the viewer to orient oneself to the artwork.  It is at once impersonal and personal. There are no straight lines except for the gallery. The sculptures require the spectators to walk through. Spectatorship should be an exploration, not an affirmation of artistic principles. In the very nature of traveling through the sculpture, there is a process of becoming, a discovering, and here Serra creates these possible, only experienced in person, gallery memories. In discussing milieu, Deleuze says

“The trajectory merges not only with the subjectivity of those who travel through a milieu, but also with the subjectivity of the milieu itself, insofar as it is reflected in those who travel through it. The map expresses the identity of the journey and what one journeys through. It merges with its object, when the object itself is movement.”[6]

 Traveling through the sculpture in a spiral continuum. Getting to the center is not the goal or the accomplishment, but rather the pliant observation, an activity of looking. Movement is fundamental to this art piece, and while the walls are unpredictable, unfathomable in one viewing. This is the key component of experience.

An implication of engaging with a Serra sculpture could be that they nurture the habit to move, to invoke, to inspire, and to will the spectator to make a move, The spectators walking through demand their interaction to give their movement and receive movement

This is a becoming pilgrimage. The sculptures assume their affect because the spectators are with the sculpture; they bring their curiousity and content. Serra says that a work of his “ includes and is dependent on memory and anticipation.”[7] Orientation through the piece, how to walk through it, unpredictable, alter the routines of navigating around an art piece, exploration, the curved walls, sky or floor are the lines of flight, guided pathways. To experience the structure is an exchange, a resonance. To walk is to ruminate, process. This is how Serra’s structures at Dia Beacon constitute my immanent art experience. Activated by the spectator, the art becomes a living matter.

My friend, drawn to the metal, ran her hands over the walls. But then! The gallery guard man told my friend not to touch the work. The sculpture exudes defiance, and we both frowned at the guard for his habituated duty.

|| BC ||

[1] Cooke, Lynne. “Richard Serra, Long Term View Introduction,” Dia Beacon, Retrieved April 22, 2012 from: 

[2] Deleuze, Gilles. “Mediators” Negotiations Trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Colombia University Press. 1995. P. 126

[3] Deleuze, P. 125

[4] Cooke.

[5] Lynn, Gregg. Animate Form New York: Princeton Architectural Press. 1999. 125

[6] Deleuze, Gilles. “What Children Say” Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. New York: Verso. 1997.

[7] Cooke.


  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    It seems that in your experience, these steel sculptures of Serra’s are best appreciated as a corporeal experience: one that engages the bodily sensations within the room. Of the structure you write, “To experience the structure is an exchange, a resonance. To walk is to ruminate, process. This is how Serra’s structures at Dia Beacon constitute my immanent art experience. Activated by the spectator, the art becomes a living matter.”
    In a sense it seems like the spectators must use their bodies to ignite the art, to create the experience — it’s not just the spectator receiving, but actively engaging in the creative process. I’m interested in the detail you provide about your friend’s impulse to touch the sculpture. My first memory of being at a museum as a child was when I reached out to touch a textured oil painting and was chastised by the museum guard. I was perplexed — isn’t this art supposed to be for us, the audience? As tactile creatures, we use touch to connect us with and make sense of our immediate surroundings. I wonder, what would being able to touch these metal sculptures add to the experience? I imagine the sculptures to feel cool and coarse. This closeness engages the body in a different kind of way that physically moving in space does. So while certain artworks are meant to be experienced through the body, it is only to a degree. One could easily justify the prohibition of phsyical contact with the artwork as this could alter (damage) it. Even so, I think losing out on the experience of touch limits the engagement we can have with the art, restricting us to take it in with our senses in a more limited way.

    It’s also interesting to think about the ways in which audiences engage with “new media.” This exists is an entirely different realm of physical presence, more as an etherial image. There are many new media installations that are sensitive to the human body and change according to physical proximity. I wonder, if “new media” can evoke the same kinds of responses although they are not physical in the way these steel sculptures are.


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