Richard Serra’s drawing retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York offers a dynamic overview of his 40 years of experimentation with process, materials, scale and perception of space on paper and in monumental installations of black, oil-sticked canvases stapled directly to the gallery walls. One of the special features of the comprehensive show is a selection of 28 of Serra’s sketchbooks, which are on view in the final gallery. Artspace editor Paul Laster queried the artist about the drawing notebooks at the Met.
Artspace: If we were to look through your notebooks, would we only see drawings and studies for works that you had in mind or would we also see diarist notes on life and sketches of other things?
Richard Serra: For the most part, the drawing notebooks are what you say they are—they’re diaries—but they vary. Some are complete within themselves as drawings and made with the intention of making a drawing notebook. There’s one where I made a trip to Egypt and drew the Saqqara pyramids and the Giza pyramids and a trip down the Nile and that’s a complete notebook of memoir—a daybook. There’s two from Egypt and two from Ronchamp and then there’s a couple that are complete studies of just looking at a sculpture, the detail of a sculpture after it went up—looking at the open spaces.
There are other notebooks in the cabinet which I suspect—in fact I know—have daily references, insights into what’s going wrong, contradictions that I’m dealing with, whatever I have to do in terms of rigging problems, dreams, notations…but most of them—I think for the most part—are drawing notebooks.
There’s a very good printer named Steidl—I think he’s probably the best black and white printer in the world—and he’s taken five of the notebooks and he’s made facsimiles of them, which are so good you would think they are real…that you could pull the charcoal right off them. They’ve put them in a very casual box and they’re going to make them available, and I’m not unhappy with it.
I’ve never shown notebooks drawings before and I don’t consider my work representational or anecdotal, but I think that the notebooks ground people’s perception of the work and it gives them that experience of who this person is that’s making this work and what his interests might be, because the notebooks go from Machu Pichu to Ronchamp to who knows where.
It gives you another sense of who this person is—not in some cartoon way, but what does this person do when he’s not making art? What is the source of his experimentation? What does this guy do when he’s in the world with his daily life? I think that the notebooks are a good indication of what that is.