Remembering Richard Serra (1938-2024), American art’s man of steel

American artist Richard Serra, whose vast sculptures transformed landscapes around the world, has died aged 85

richard serra in front of sculpture
American artist and sculptor Richard Serra poses with his massive steel sculpture 'Tilted Arc' (1981) in Federal Plaza, New York, in the mid-1980s. The sculpture was the subject of much public debate and controversy, and was eventually dismantled and scrapped in 1989
(Image credit: Photo by Oliver Morris/Getty Images)

Richard Serra, the American artist and sculptor, has died aged 85. He was celebrated primarily for his vast, site-specific steel sculptures that transformed landscapes and appeared all over the world, from a nature reserve in Qatar to New Zealand’s Gibbs Farm and the Serra Sculpture Park in St Louis, Missouri. 

Serra coaxed larger-than-life ribbons of steel into twisting torsions, oxidised to encourage the deep orange hue, creating a striking immersive experience for visitors, encouraged to walk amongst and through them.

long black columns in desert

Photographed for the Wallpaper* June 2022 issue, Richard Serra's East-West/ West-East, 2014, in the Brouq Nature Reserve, Qatar

(Image credit: Sophie Gladstone)

Serra eschewed screws and bolts in the creation of his works, demonstrating his flawless grasp on his materials’ dynamics in the physicality of the pieces, which stand alone and unsupported. The experience of his visitors was a crucial component of the work for him, and his many public art commissions encouraged bystanders to engage with his work directly, recontextualising its environment rather than standing apart.

steel sculptures

Richard Serra artwork at the Guggenheim museum, in Bilbao, Spain

(Image credit: Photo by NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Born in San Francisco in 1938, Serra began his six-decade career after witnessing his father’s work with steel as part of his job as a shipyard pipe fitter. After studying painting at Yale, he experimented with materials including fibreglass and rubber when creating minimalist sculptures. As he began to work with steel, his scale grew, culminating in work including the generous Tilted Arc, in New York in 1981, and the endlessly winding Te Tuhirangi Contour ribbon in New Zealand.

As well as his works outdoors, Serra has been the subject of retrospectives at galleries including London’s Tate, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum.

richard serra with work

Richard Serra set up his Monumenta, 2008, in Paris, on 26 April of that year

(Image credit: Photo by Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Imag)

Buildings in Doha and lone upright sculpture

Appearing in Wallpaper's July 2013 issue, a focus on Doha, Qatar, reveals Serra's sculpture, 7, jutting out into Doha Bay

(Image credit: Daniel Stier)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.