The complex installation of ‘The matter of time’


16 years have passed since the first visitor was dazzled as he looked out onto the balcony on the first floor of the Gueggenheim Museum Bilbao and see the different pieces of iron that make up ‘The matter of time '. But to get there, the process was complex and laborious. Just one piece of information: one more piece The light one weighs 44 tons and the heaviest 276.

What today seems to us already intrinsic, typical and familiar to the museum, began to take shape in 2002, when a working group formed by curators and directors of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Guggenheim Foundation presented a proposal to locate in a way permanent, in room 104, an installation of great proportions.

One of the possibilities was to commission for this space a work that was of large scale and ambition. Inspired by the exhibition that in 1999 the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao dedicated to the Elliptical Torsions of Serra, and in which the room is showed his full potential, Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim Foundation and Juan Ignacio Vidarte, General Director of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, they started conversations with Serra and invited him to consider the project. The artist submitted a detailed proposal in October 2003, which would be approved in February 2004.

For this, the artist carried out an exhaustive study of the structural principles material in relation to weight and mass, to be able to reach a tension extreme in his works. These works place us at the ambiguous point, where the weight it becomes light. The enormous mass, despite being heavy, is light. Serra managed to transform huge steel plates - all have more than four meters high and about two inches thick - in something that looks float up.

Serra worked in a forge

Educated in a working class family and working himself, in his youth, in different forges to pay for his studies when art was not yet enough to live on, Richard Serra made this composition in self-oxidizing steel, which, with the passage of time and by the express wish of its author, has been oxidizing and changing color until acquiring the permanent amber color that can be seen today.

The title of "The Matter of Time" responds, according to Serra, to the idea of multiple or stratified temporalities, according to each visitor's experiment with the pieces. "The experience is intimate, private, psychological, aesthetic, but also external, social and public. The art focuses on the vital experience through the pieces. It is based on walking and looking, entering and passing through the space generated by the installation."

Instalación laboriosa
Laborious installation

The pieces arrived in Bilbao from Germany in large trailers, then they were brought into the museum and the large pieces were installed in the gallery. Once they arrived at the museum and in the room where they were to be installed, the pieces were lifted by means of cranes, the hovercraft systems were removed and the pieces were placed in their final location.

To do this, they used a system, patented by the German steelworks in Siegen where they were built, based on the use of compressed air. Using a compressor and hoses, large quantities of compressed air were blown into small plates, the parts were lifted into the air and the plates could be transported simply by operators pushing them.

Moving space

In Serra's work, the spheres generate different effects on the movement and perception of the viewer. They transform unexpectedly as the visitor walks through and around them, creating a dizzying and unforgettable sensation of space in motion. The entire room is part of the sculptural field: as in his other sculptures composed of many pieces, the artist purposefully arranges the works to move the viewer through them and the space around them. The distribution of the works throughout the gallery creates corridors of different proportions (wide, narrow, elongated, compressed, high, low) and always unexpected.

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