What hits you first about ‘The Matter of Time’, Richard Serra’s permanent installation at the Guggenheim, is its breathtaking scale. There are eight pieces, all rolled from sheet steel, each around four metres high and dozens of metres long. What hits you second is its sheer playfulness; there’s not a vertical line in the place, its all angled curves, and we are so used to vertilinear world that this is immediately disorienting. Some of the pieces invite you in; others invite you to pass through them, and I can’t remember the last time I saw so many kids having so much fun in an art gallery.
The other aspect of the work is that, at least in part, Serra seems to have conceived it as a sculptor’s rebuke to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim’s design, and the sculptural claims made about his building. (This may be personal; according to Robert Hughes, there’s “considerable animosity” between the two men.) As you listen to Serra on the gallery’s audio guide, he explains that architects who describe their curved exteriors as sculptural are merely using the form as ornament, because the curvilinear shapes sit on a rectilinear frame. It is, he says dismissively, ‘surface as scene-making’.
The image at the top of this post is a public domain picture from wikimedia.org, and is used with thanks.