Walter Benjamin — you’d think his “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” had been so quoted that the words would be used up by now. But no, they are still there, still legible, still useful, and they spring to mind as I walk through Serra’s ‘Junction’ and ‘Cycle’ at Gagosian gallery, camera in hand. Like all of Serra’s works the massive metal pieces live in a borderland between sculpture and architecture, drawing you inside their 14-foot walls.
What sprang to mind was Benjamin’s bit about architecture and how we “appropriate” buildings “in a two-fold-manner by use and by perception — or rather by touch and by sight. . . Tactile appropriation,” he wrote, “is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit. As regards architecture, habit determined to a large extent even optical reception.” (And, no, I am not quoting from memory.)
I am going to interpret ‘tactile appropriation’ to include the effect walls and spaces have on us physically, whether or not we are actually touching them. Walk through Serra’s “Junction” or “Cycle” (or, actually, any other Serra sculpture you happen upon) and your body feels the squeeze and the expanse, the rounded forms, the tilted planes… all sensations the eyes (and the camera) cannot fully capture, but that the body knows. It is the journey through a gorge, with walls of rock acting on your senses.