Collected Works: Art
by Richard Serra
Public art, sculpture
Measuring 120 foot long and twelve foot high, weighing in at 73 tonnes, Tilted Arc is a metal colossus. The sheer expanse of its steel wall is reminiscent of a defensive barricade, dwarfing anyone or anything that crosses its path. Compounding this sense of unease, the work appears to be in a state of perpetually precarious balance, angled in suggestion it may topple forward at any moment.
From an aerial view, the impressive dimensions look to be in perfect proportion to the Federal Plaza, the subtle curvature of the sculpture cleanly bisecting the public space. Nestled within New York, a city filled to burst with crowding high-rise buildings that seem to defy gravity, Tilted Arc seems to have been drawn in one elegant flick of an ink pen, its appearance in apparent harmony with its surroundings.
But the impracticality and intimidating presence of Serra’s work prompted a public hearing, resulting in its permanent removal in 1989. Cases were crafted by advocates and detractors alike, ranging from the legal and moral to the artistic and therapeutic, each position argued vehemently. Rarely has a single artwork become entwined within a web of so many distinct personal, political, and creative agendas.
One thing is certain, though: Serra drew attention to this otherwise unremarkable, anonymous plaza, causing observers to pause and reconsider a space that they may have crossed a hundred times before. For some, the work elevated the whole area to the realm of art; for others, it was an ugly obstacle that prolonged their commute. Confrontational and impossible to ignore, Tilted Arc was no public-square picnic bench.
Words by Katherine Fieldgate
More to discover
You can find out more about the Tilted Arc public hearings by reading Jennifer Mundy's post on the Tate website, Michael Brenson's 1989 article for The New York Times, and transcripts of the case on the Nero Magazine website.If you would like to find out about other controversial works of public art, Heba Hasan's post for Flavorwire gives ten examples.
David Seidner has interviewed Richard Serra for BOMB Magazine, as have Phong Bui for The Brooklyn Rail, Sean O'Hagan for The Observer (UK), Ossian Ward for Time Out London (also with sculptor Anish Kapoor), and Charlie Rose (video interview), linked here.