Ambassador Lisette Pelsers

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.”