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Serra on his titles

They always come after the fact. They never have anything to do with the meaningfulness of the work. They are just a way of keeping track of the work. Instead of using numbers, I use titles to identify different works. I am aware, though, that one of the problems with titles is that they are often misinterpreted as metaphorical or illustrative or descriptive.1

1 R. Eric Davis, "Extended Vision" (Interview with Richard Serra, 1 December 1999), Art on Paper (May-June 2000): 65.

Serra's memory of Janis Joplin at a New York City bar in the late 1960s (1987)

I used to hang out at Max's Kansas City, and she visited there nightly. She had a great spirit and she was a person who was going through an enormous number of changes very rapidly and producing a tremendous amount of work. She was also extremely vulnerable which was apparent to everyone who knew her; she was also isolated, though very approachable and easy to talk to…She had a lot of courage, a lot of courage. 1

1 Angelica Zander Rudenstein, Interview with Richard Serra (June 1987), in Rudenstine, et al., Modern Painting, Drawing & Sculpture Collected by Emily and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., vol. IV (Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1988), p. 868.

Serra on the color of Joplin

When I think of Joplin, I think of it as a blue piece; it's a good color, but it doesn't mean much: it's nonintentional. I look at the material for its degree of correctness or exactitude down to the millimeter in terms of the edge and its plane. I don't look at it in terms of the surface. I always just take the surface the way it comes. 1

1 Angelica Zander Rudenstine, Interview with Richard Serra (June 1987), in Rudenstine, et al., Modern Painting, Drawing & Sculpture Collected by Emily and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., vol. IV (Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1988), p. 868.

Serra on the persistence of conventionality and portraiture in contemporary art

Artists are still modeling and casting, and make significant works, in spite of the fact that Picasso's [sheet metal] guitar [in the Museum of Modern Art, New York] bracketed those processes as being history. Similarly you can ask whether portraiture is still interesting as a convention. Probably not. But that is not to say that artists have not done interesting portraits since Picasso.1

Serra recalling the scene at Max's Kansas City, a bar in New York, where he and Janis Joplin both hung out in the late 1960s (1995)

[At Max's] there were a lot of things that would crossfeed, and there was a lot of hysteria and a lot of people colliding against one another, and issues were taken quite seriously…Meanwhile, you'd look over and see Janis Joplin dead drunk, trying to keep up with herself on the jukebox, trying to sing to herself…Crying because she couldn't keep up…No one would interrupt her because she was trying to sing her own song against herself as a duet, and she was not doing very well, and we were not going to help her out. I mean, it was just sad, and we just let her do it. 1

1 Chuck Close, Interview with Richard Serra (25 October 1995), in The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of his Subjects (New York: A.R.T. Press, 1997), p. 62.

Serra on the form of Joplin

The great distinction between the three plates is what strikes you, but it is not the plane as much as it is the outline. 1

1 Angelica Zander Rudenstine, Interview with Richard Serra (June 1987), in Rudenstine, et al., Modern Painting, Drawing & Sculpture Collected by Emily and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., vol. IV (Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1988), p. 875.

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Richard Serra - Joplin (1971) Richard Serra - Joplin (1971) Hot rolled steel, three plates, one notched pole. Private Collection.

This sculpture was named for Janis Joplin (1943-1970), who fronted the blues-influenced rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company before becoming a popular solo artist. In the 1960s, when Joplin was at the height of her success, she and Serra frequented the same bar in New York, Max's Kansas City (a bohemian hangout that became legendary for attracting stars and soon-to-be-stars). Serra, who was then relatively unknown, recalls being greatly affected by encountering her in person. Although Serra is generally reluctant to ascribe much meaning to his titles, it is possible that by naming this work Joplin shortly after the singer's death, the sculptor was paying her both homage and his respects.