Richard Serra Was Not Pleased With The US Government.

Richard Serra, The American Flag is not an object of worship, 1989, 288 x 376 cm

One of the artworks ImClone CEO Sam Waksal bought from Gagosian but didn't pay sales tax on in 2000 was a huge, $350,000 Richard Serra drawing titled, The American Flag is not an object of worship.

Interestingly, when the drawing sold at Sotheby's in 2004 [for $232,000 against an estimate of just $80-120,000. There really ought to be a word for a deal where you weasel out an 8.25% "discount" after dumbly overpaying by 50-300%. Maybe a Waksale.], the provenance only mentioned collector/Dia board member/Kim Heirston dater Dr. Pentti Kouri [who passed away in 2009] and the Leo Castelli Gallery, where the work was originally shown.

And what a show it was.

"8 Drawings: Weights and Measures" opened in September 1989, in the wake of the Tilted Arc controversy, and six months after the 1981 sculpture was removed [and according to the artist, "destroyed"] from Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. And from the titles Serra gave the massive paintstick on paper works, I don't think he'd quite gotten over the loss.

Poster/flyer for "Richard Serra 8 Drawings: Weights and Measures"

There's a room in the Met's Serra drawings retrospective with several works from the Castelli "Weights and Measures" show, including The United States Courts are partial to the Government [105x185 in.], No mandatory patriotism [93x201 in.], and the massive The United States Government destroys art [113x215 in.], which is owned by the Broads.

I can't find out online, and I don't have my Serra drawings catalogue raisonné with me to check, but it would be interesting, if maybe a little too neatly literal, if the cumulative dimensions of the eight "Weights and Measures" drawings added up to 120 feet, the length of Titled Arc. It'd turn the drawings into fragmented shadows of the lost sculpture, ghost slabs floating in a gallery before being dispersed to haunt collections around the world. Serra's not averse to coding such biographical or historical references in a work's dimensions; I seem to remember hearing that the dimensions of the six forged steel blocks in his 1996 sculpture 58 x 64 x 70 were derived from his and his wife Clara's eye heights. [I can't find any mention of that now, though; I'll have to check.] Anyway, TBD all over the place.

[UPDATE: thanks to the Communications office at the Met for sending along the checklist, which also includes the dimensions of the other two W&M drawings in the show. The four drawings mentioned here do, in fact, add up to 62 linear feet. So a 120 ft total is in the realm of the possible.]

2015 UPDATE: yes, but maybe not? I can't believe I never published the result of this research, but I did gather the dimensions of all the W&M drawings, and they ran about 117 linear feet. If they each have 4.5-in larger framed dimensions, they'll add up to 120 feet, but I doubt Serra's numerological interests would incorporate frames. I'd love to be wrong about that and right about the dispersed, destroyed ghost of Tilted Arc, but I think it's the other way around. Oh well.

Weights & Measures, annotated, dimensions in inches

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: May 16, 2011.

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