I saw a lot of art on a recent trip to New York, but I think the works that made the biggest impression on me (not literally, thank goodness) were four steel slabs by Richard Serra, two at MoMA made in 1974-75 and two at Gagosian from 2013.

Inside Out (2013) at Gagosian

At Gagosian’s hangar-like Chelsea space, Serra has set up two undulating arcs of beautifully rusted steel about ten or fifteen feet high and 80 feet long each forming corridors and cul-se-sacs for visitors to wander around in.


Some of the spaces are narrow enough to make it awkward to pass other people and others are almost cathedral-like.


The rusted steel looks almost like velvet in some places and its shape and angle reminds you of the hull of a ship.


In at least one spot, you can see bootprints on the steel, and the seams where the plates are connected are not hidden but neither are they ostentatious.


Delineator (1974-75) at MoMA

In an otherwise ordinary gallery space at MoMA, a piece called Delineator is installed. It takes a moment to even realize there’s something there.  On the floor, a slab of steel with a smooth finish that you’re invited to walk upon.


As you do, you notice the second slab, attached to the ceiling right above but offset 90 degrees from the one on the floor. The slab on the ceiling seems to have a rougher texture, maybe because nobody’s been walking on it.


Once again, you are in a sense “inside” the work, even part of it, but this piece from the ’70s contains a lot more menace than the sensual curves of the 2103 work. You’re forced to touch the work by walking on it and you’re forced to ponder what’s keeping the 2.5 ton slab up there. Where Inside Out is welcoming and even playful, Delineator (as the name suggests) asks point blank, “are you in or are you out?”

I’d rather live with or in the 2013 Serra, but the 1975 piece appeals to me more as art that makes you think a little as you pass through it. It’s nearly impossible to “get” these pieces from pictures or blogs, so see them in person if you get the chance.