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26 April 2024 

Travelogue: Shift by Richard Serra

On 26 April 2024, Martine van Kampen visits the work Shift (1970) by the recently deceased artist Richard Serra in King City, near Toronto. From her travelogue:

Richard Serra - Shift

First stop of this trip: Shift by Richard Serra, in King City. It is very similar to Sea Level, with the same wedge-shaped walls and the material: concrete. Special for Serra, as he has only realised three concrete works. He actually thought concrete was too much like architecture, and probably too little like sculpture. Shift is quite well-known, but not many people realise it still exists. It sits on a barren, rolling field near King City, north of Toronto. For Serra, the work was probably more of a sketch or experiment than a full-fledged work.

Art and nature

But what a sketch, plotted while walking by Serra together with fellow artist Joan Jonas, during which they determined the location and direction of the wedges by keeping each other in mind relative to the slope. After ‘some light trespassing’ through a small forest, with artist Derek Sullivan and Mac Laren Art Centre curator Rachel Deiterding, we reached the field. Derek became fascinated with the artwork during the pandemic and why it has so little attention. He knows a lot about the work and the nature that has folded around it in all this time.

Cracks and tears

As a visitor, you take the same walk now as Serra and Jonas did back then, zigzagging and looking back and forth, becoming aware of the shape of the field and the slope. The artwork is not maintained, and the field is simply leased and cultivated by a farmer - the tractor and mower faithfully zigzag around it. Overgrown by plants that the machines manage to avoid, the walls show cracks and fissures. Yet in places, the concrete is better intact than that of Sea Level, Serra's concrete artwork in Flevoland: smoother and with sharper edges.

Perhaps that is the value of Shift: an experiment preserved by unforeseeable circumstances, from which the life of land art-works can be read, outside the field of vision of the art world.

Check out the other (visual) trip reports here.

Shift (1970) van Richard Serra, foto Martine van Kampen / Land Art Flevoland
Shift (1970) van Richard Serra, photo Martine van Kampen / Land Art Flevoland