It is happily noted in the press materials for Richard Serra: Thinking On Your Feet, Maria Anna Tappeiner’s documentary about the American sculptor, that its subject is something most artists are not: articulate, particularly with regard to his work. Having thus recommended Serra—a compact, baseball-capped figure with a bulldog strut—as both narrator and star, the film has unduly raised expectations. While it’s true that Serra can expound at length and in formidable terms about the “load-bearing, tectonic concerns” of his art, he’s also the kind of guy who can’t help going with “directionality” when “direction” would suffice. Ironically, after a little background on Serra’s working-class upbringing (he even took a job in a steel mill) and a testimonial from Philip Glass, it’s when Serra himself takes over—with sophisticated color commentary on his Guggenheim Bilbao exhibit—that the film’s portrait of the artist loses focus. While invigorating, the guided tour isn’t personally illuminating (and only moderately so in terms of the work), which leaves Tappeiner with the visual dilemma of showcasing Serra’s mammoth steel installations—both repetitive and enigmatic by virtue of their form and scope—for much of the 90-minute runtime. As the artist affects a symposium nearly as towering as his “Promenade,” always returning to process, the camera endlessly skims the narrow corridors of his planed steel walls, to increasingly fruitless effect. Serra himself stresses the importance of viewer interaction— of literally walking through the works and experiencing their outrageous scale and geometric purpose—to his art’s success; in other words, you definitely have to be there.
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