Brother to the famed local defense attorney Tony Serra, internationally renowned metal sculptor Richard Serra may be best known locally for sculptures so huge that they blocked traffic in SoMa, but he passed away Tuesday in New York from pneumonia.

You’re likely familiar with notorious SF defense attorney Tony Serra, who’s defended the likes of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and Ghost Ship defendant Derick Almena. You may not be aware that renowned large-scale metal sculptor Richard Serra is his brother.

While Richard Serra is a San Francisco native, his local legacy is probably best remembered because of a 214-ton COR-TEN steel sculpture Sequence displayed in the public lobby of SFMOMA that was so large it blocked traffic on Howard Street while being installed in 2015, as part of the SFMOMA’s reopening after a three-year closure.  


According to Bay Area News Group, Richard Serra died from pneumonia Tuesday at his Long Island, New York home. He was 85.


Serra’s New York Times obituary explains that he was born in San Francisco in 1938, quickly had a fascination with the SF shipyards where his father worked, and started working in steel mills at the age of 15. This would influence the use of large metal works in his sculptures. He would go on to study at UC Santa Barbara with the likes of Margaret Mead and Aldous Huxley, and switched his interest from painting to sculpture, becoming one of the first Post-Minimalist greats.


Serra would gain notoriety in 1981 for the above-pictured work Tilted Arc, a site-specific work designed for a federal building in Lower Manhattan. The notoriety came because the employees at the building absolutely hated it, and petitioned the General Services Administration to have it removed. Serra sued to keep it there, but lost, and in accordance with Serra’s wishes, it was not displayed again anywhere else.


Serra would go on to have two acclaimed retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (in 1986 and 2007), and saw eight of his works permanently installed at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Following the temporary installation of Sequence at SFMOMA, it returned to the Stanford campus, where it sits outside the Cantor Arts Center. There is also a 60-foot-tall Serra piece titled Charlie Brown, owned by Gap founders Doris and Don Fisher, that stands in the atrium of Gap's Embarcadero headquarters.

You can also see a piece of Serra's permanently installed in the UCSF Mission Bay campus' east plaza, titled Ballast.

And SFMOMA houses a number of Serra sketches, paintings, and smaller metal pieces, like Floor Prop from 1969 — also part of the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

“Serra's work took abstract and invisible properties such as weight, balance, pressure, and gravity — all of which are traditionally associated with sculpture — and made them visible and visceral,” SFMOMA says in their bio page on Serra. “Examples of this practice include installations of thrown molten lead that use architectural corners as a mold, or metal plates and poles held in place by their own weight.”


The Times notes a representative story: A few years back, Serra was diagnosed with cancer in the tear duct of his left eye. Doctors recommended he have the eye removed. But as the Times notes, “Typically undaunted and determined not to compromise his vision or his work as an artist, Mr. Serra declined the surgery.”

Related: SFMOMA's Giant Richard Serra Sculpture Blocking Traffic On Howard Street [SFNews]

Image: American sculptor Richard Serra at Museum Of Modern Art Sculpture Garden in New York with one of his sculptures on 17th April 2007. (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)