An imposing maker of imposing art, Richard Serra speaks with rat-a-tat certainty about the creation of his massive curved steel plates throughout Maria Anna Tappeiner’s no-frills documentary. Artists can sometimes ramble on a bit, but Serra’s process-centric comments are weirdly riveting. “We start with the void,” he says, and you realize that his real subject is open space: the reshaping of the volume of a gallery and our movement through the tunnels his walls create. As the 40-ton plates for his Guggenheim Bilbao exhibit are fired in steel mills, trucked in the dead of night to loading docks and finally maneuvered into place to the millimeter, there’s a giddy sense of bending monolithic industries to one’s will.
Yet, as a kind of art-world Howard Roark, Serra has an opaqueness that’s frustrating. This is some seriously masculine work; a touch of analysis wouldn’t hurt. We learn, briefly, that Serra’s parents were blue-collar San Francisco immigrants. Is he playing out their labors in the art world? Randomly (and with discordant inarticulateness), the doc touches on Serra’s lefty politics; similarly, there’s only a glimmer of the deep relationship he has with his tireless rigger, Ernst Fuchs. For some, the geek talk might be enough, but the artist himself remains fixedly behind his walls.