So much of modern urban coolness seems to derive from smooth, reflective surfaces.
A deliberately aged, industrial artifact can draw a crowd.
Surrounded by millions of strangers, who wants to risk open vulnerability?
Unless you grew up in the rust belt, surrounded by shuttered factories, I guess you’d have no particular reason to associate a Richard Serra sculpture with unemployment, drug abuse, and domestic violence.
The primary associations would presumably be romantic or nostalgic. It would seem almost rustic, perhaps — a wall in search of a garden, an extension of the earth.
Its vulnerability to the elements might connote a kind of innocence. Visitors would be warned against touching the rusty surface, or even (for the indoor portions of the exhibition) snapping photos.
All it takes is a simple frame to turn the innocent ironic.
But the sculptor wants to provoke “an engagement between the viewer, the site, and the work.” We must do what we would never do with a stranger: take off our sunglasses and meet the iron’s yellow eyes. No irony there.