Sculpture Journal

Expecting violence: Richard Serra’s Gravity, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and countermonuments

Sculpture Journal (2017), 26, (2), 217–233.

Abstract

The atrium of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, features the site-specific sculpture Gravity by Richard Serra. While art historical discourse often describes Gravity as threatening, few visitors shy away from the sculpture. Violent scholarly interpretations implicitly frame the sculpture within Serra’s earlier practice, the trend towards countermonuments and the ‘Americanized’ Holocaust narrative. In highlighting the parallels between these discourses, I use Gravity as a means to understand the expectations placed upon US Holocaust memorials during the late 1980s and early 1990s, showing that such works were often assumed to be countermonumental forms that asserted a threat towards visitors. In practice, Gravity’s perceived antagonism is muted by the museum’s sculptural architecture, its distanced view of the Holocaust and the artist’s own relationship to the project. This re-siting shows that Gravity’s power is not spectacular, as scholars describe, but instead is an exercise in Foucauldian disciplinary power.

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Author details

Dosch, Mya