Richard Serra: Sea Level (1996)

Sea Level, Richard Serra (1969). Foto: Jordi Huisman
Sea Level, Richard Serra (1969). Foto: Jordi Huisman

Ambassador Lisette Pelsers
Read and see more
On June 19, 2016, Maria Pask held an intervention at Richard Serra's Sea Leven as part of the program Land Art Live. Read more about Dilatation

Sea Level by the American artist Richard Serra sits like a spirit level in the middle of the rolling land- scape of park De Wetering in Zeewolde. The two concrete walls run straight through the park, which was designed in 1986 by landscape architect Pieter van der Molen and artist Bas Maters. The walls, each 200 metres long, are diagonally aligned along both sides of a canal. At their outer ends, the walls disappear almost invisibly into the landscape, whereas in the middle _ at the park’s lowest point _ they are several metres high.

Sea Level gives physical meaning to the term sea level: without the dikes the water level would come up to the upper edge of the walls. The artwork evokes a feeling of submersion; visitors walking along the wall are made to feel as if they are literally ‘going under’, only to ‘resurface’ a little further down.

Accessibility:

Ambassador Lisette Pelsers

Lisette Pelsers. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen
Lisette Pelsers. Foto: Sjoerd van Leeuwen

Lisette Pelsers is director of the Kröller-Müller Museum. She preserves the experience of two works by Richard Serra in the sculpture garden of this museum.

“The last time I saw Sea Level was a long time ago. I have always found it a beautiful work. What I really like about it, is that it is so Dutch: that it speaks of this land, the sea level and the battle against water. One of the walls is as high as the surrounding dikes, while the other corresponds to the sea level. I understood it’s also essential that you can actually take refuge on this wall in case the dikes burst. It’s one of the only concrete works I know by Serra. This gives Sea Level even more of a dike perspective. Somehow it’s logic that Serra implemented this harsh, straight line into this landscape. That rigidness befits the polder.

I do think all the Flevoland projects are wonderful. I remember starting my studies and hearing about these, then still recent, works. That something like this was happening in the Netherlands was really spectacular. And of course you then just had to go there. I still remember the emptiness when I visited Sea Level. This experience of a completely open landscape. I still have this integrated image of emptiness, mud, air en water. But perhaps that’s because I’m not such a polder person. I really prefer the hilly landscape surrounding the Kröller-Müller Museum.

If you think of the Netherlands as a polder landscape, then in a way it seems ‘less Dutch’ over here. Because of this difference, the works of Serra in our sculpture garden are also inevitable different works. Spin Out, for Robert Smithson and One are more immersed in their surroundings. Spin Out, for Robert Smithson consists of three steel sheets shoved into a slope. Because these sheets are not concentrically placed in relation to each other, there’s no real centre. This is why the work feels somewhat uncomfortable. The work requires a certain openness to have that effect. That’s why we need to clear the area if it threatens to become too overgrown.

In the sculpture garden, Serra’s work is of course relatively well protected against scratches and graffiti. Sea Level on the other hand is public space. You could say the work is thereby also outlawed. I hear it’s often besmirched. Of course it’s difficult to prevent such a thing, but for the work it’s rather devastating. In our sculpture garden it’s a different story. Thankfully here you can maintain the work as it was meant to be and thereby preserve its experience. This has been lost with Sea Level. It’s important to bring this again to the attention.”

Read and see more

Sea Level (1996), Richard Serra. Foto: Jordi Huisman
Sea Level (1996), Richard Serra. Foto: Jordi Huisman

Sea Level by the American artist Richard Serra (San Francisco, 1939) sits as a spirit level in the middle of the rolling landscape of park De Wetering in Zeewolde. The two dark grey pigmented concrete walls run right across the park that was designed in 1986 by landscape architect Pieter van der Molen and artist Bas Maters. (1) The walls, each of them 200 metres long, are aligned diagonally on both sides of a canal. At their outer ends, the walls disappear into the landscape almost unnoticed, whereas in the middle - at the park's lowest point - they are several metres high.

With two 200-metre long walls and the grass and water in between, Sea Level is Serra's largest work in Europe. If you walk along the wall, the artwork gives you the feeling of being submerged under water while slowly floating back tot the surface a little further on. (1) When visiting Zeewolde, Serra was fascinated by the fact that the village lies below the surrounding lakes of Wolderwijd and Nuldernauw. Sea Level signifies the physical meaning of the notion of the sea level: without the dikes, the water would reach the top of the artwork. Thus, Sea Level reminds us of the creation of Zeewolde on the bottom of the former Zuiderzee. Depending on the weather conditions, the massive walls will undergo a transformation. On a sunny day the blue sky will be reflected by the shiny silvery wall, whereas on heavily clouded days the wall will take on a dark grey colour and look impenetrable.

That Richard Serra likes to work with steel originates from the fact that he paid his way through college working in a steel factory. Serra became world-famous for his colossal abstract scupltures made of rustcoloured Corten steel, which are usually considered to be Minimal Art and Land Art. His work often relates to the space for which it was made: a museum gallery, the city or nature. (3) For the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Serra made the gigantic artwork The Matter of Time (2005), consisting of eight enormous Corten steel ellipses and round shapes. The work's size invites interaction with its observers. Wandering amongst the scupltures, the ellipse suddenly leads to a dead end or the surroundings show themselves again around the next corner. This is also the case with works like Blind Spot (2002-2003) and Open Ended (2007-2008). His scupltures can be found all over the world: from Canberra to Bilbao and from Zeewolde to New York.

Location: De Verbeelding 25, Zeewolde (overview from bridge Kastanjelaan)
Material: pigmented concrete
Dimensions: 2 walls with a length of 200 metres each (and 200 metres between) Proprietor and maintenance: the Municipality of Zeewolde. Maintenance is executed by De Kunstwacht.

Richard Serra, Spin Out, For Robert Smithson at the Museum Kröller Müller
An interview with Richard Serra in The Guardian

Richard Serra talking about his work in 2001:

Notes:
(1) In Almere Buiten, in the Paarlemoervijver, you can find Het Bootje (The Little Boat, 1994) by Bas Maters
(2) Amy Dempsey, (2006), Destination Art, p. 117.
(3) Jeffrey Kastner & Brian Wallis, (1998), Land and Envrionmental Art, p. 293