You can also talk about the achievement of the artist in mathematically wresting the material into shape so that the huge machines used in shipbuilding could roll and forge the metal to deliver the work physically.
In this post I want to talk about the surface. I’ve seen several Serra installations at Gagosian and the permanent installation of the big basin-like shapes at Dia Beacon, but indoor lighting—including the glaring overhead illumination at MoMA—does not prepare you for the experience of seeing his work out of doors in full daylight. The mottled and scratched surface texture, always interesting, reveals itself in daylight to be something more like skin: thick here, thin there, pocked, shiny, flaky, smooth. Or skins, plural: human, animal, mammalian, amphibian. Or planetary: a sandy strand, a lunar crust, a Martian landscape. There are red-orange tracks formed by liquid (rain?), and deep gouges, perhaps wrought in installation. Wherever the treated surface of the metal is rent, there is rust—pits, scars, scabs, craters.
Still inside Intersection 2, above, this stretch of metal is pitted, scabbed, scarred. Two details are below
Then there is color. The vibrant spectrum of rust is richly satisfying, from yellow-orange through coral (!) to ocher and brick red. But the surprise--the shock, really--is in the other hues: lavender, pale pink, gray-blue, even blue-green. I’ve used the parable of the blind men and the elephant before in describing the experience of Basel Miami and its satellite fairs, but it’s more apt here. Depending on where you (visually) touch these mammoths, you will perceive a different creature.
This stretch of Intersection 2 is marked by a dramatic counterpoint of granulated rust and a smooth gray-blue surface where the surface treatment had not been broken. Along the bottom curve of the slab you can see where the rust has bled into the marble pavement.What I found surprising was the particularly lovely coloration--note the light blue, below-- and the delicate scrim traced by the path of bleeding metal. Like watercolors, no? The brick hue and matte surface of Torqued Ellipse IV, the second sculpture in the garden, held a different surprise when you passed through the spiral slot. . . . . . an inner surface whose cascading waterfall of color might have come from the brush of Pat Steir. . .
What I haven't read anywhere is how much of this stupefylingly beautiful surface patination is the result of planning. Surely there was a decision to rupture the weatherproof coating. So are we seeing unintended consequences or simply the painterly passage of time? What will the work look like a decade from now? A century from now?