In the autumn of 2014, the street-side space known as Boijmans’ ‘Serra Gallery’ is being devoted to the history of Richard Serra’s ‘Waxing Arcs’, a work that consists of two gigantic arcs of steel in an otherwise empty space.
‘Waxing Arcs’ is probably one of the museum’s best-known works. Visible from the street, it is an unmissable colossus in the entrance area, but is perhaps one of the least understood works in the museum. You can be certain that nobody would suspect the history and stories which lie behind the striking rusty arcs in the large street-facing gallery. With the programme around ‘Waxing Arcs’ by Richard Serra (b. San Francisco, 1939), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen wanted to bring one of the museum’s most remarkable works of art to life and offer the public an insight into what normally remains hidden.
The multimedia presentation examined the work’s history and how works of art change over time. The presentation is part of an extensive programme around Richard Serra that includes a symposium and a film programme.
A New Experience
Serra created the work in 1980 for his solo exhibition at the museum. Shortly thereafter it was acquired by the then director, Wim Beeren. Serra’s underlying idea for this imposing work was that the public would experience the space differently as they walk through or past it, in part because of how the arcs are positioned within the space.
Part of the architecture
Since the 1980s the museum’s architecture has changed several times, including the gallery where the work of art was originally installed. For example, the circulation routes have been altered (the museum’s entrance used to be to the left of the current gallery, and was later directly from the street via this wing). The original flight of stairs between the arcs has been replaced by a ramp, the ceiling raised and the tiles superseded by a concrete floor. The work of art itself has not remained untouched either: it has been replaced by a new version with different dimensions. This second version is more than a metre higher and half a centimetre thicker than the original work. The dimensions of the gallery itself have been doubled and it is occasionally used to display other works of art.
To better understand the work, for the exhibition the space was emptied, as it was originally. A twelve-minute multimedia experience composed of photos, film fragments and audio helped to transport the visitor into the story about ‘Waxing Arcs’ and the artist Richard Serra, including the work’s museum-related history and the perception of the space. This multimedia presentation was designed in cooperation with IJsfontein.
With this exhibition, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen wanted to show that the appearance and meaning of works of art are not necessarily fixed, but can change. In Dutch collections there are about seven site-specific Serra works, several early sculptures that use rubber and neon, drawings and films, of which Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen holds about ten films and four drawings.
Symposium and research
On 14 November 2014 the museum organized a symposium together with the Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst (SBMK, the Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art) to shed light on various works by Serra in the collections of Dutch museums. The speakers included restorers and curators who work at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Kröller-Müller Museum, the Bonnefanten Museum, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and SBMK, as well as freelance art historian Jan van Adrichem. All these museums and institutions have work by Richard Serra in their collections.
Extensive research has been done prior to the exhibition. Read more about the artist, the history of the work and the changes it has gone through here.
The multimedia exhibition was made possible by the generous support from the Mondriaan Fund and the BankGiro Loterij.