Friday, October 22, 2010

Before the fall

Recently we commented in a when-good-art-turns-bad moment that someone was once killed by a Richard Serra sculpture. While this is true, it wasn’t the fault of the sculpture or Richard Serra as many people might think given the way this story is told and retold. As a reader pointed out, we may well have added to that perception so, in the interest of getting things right, here is a more detailed account of the event.

The accident happened on 18 November 1971 when one of the 2.4 metric ton plates of Serra’s Sculpture Number 3 broke loose from its support and fell on Raymond Johnson, a rigger who was helping to assemble the work at the Walker Art Centre. Johnson was killed.

Serra’s instructions for erecting the works included the following specifics:
No. 1 Erect plates at proper angles and brace.
No. 2 Wedge plates to prevent movement. Wedges are permanent. Do not remove.
No. 3 Remove bracing. Do not remove wedges.

In 1975 a case was brought against Serra and other defendants on behalf of Johnson. The jury awarded $US505,092 in damages but found Serra free of any negligence. The accident was attributed to incorrect procedures (Serra’s instructions not being followed) and preparation during and before the erection process by the fabricator of the work and its broker. That's the short version but you can read a full account of the court proceedings here.

Other posts about Richard Serra and his work on OTN