In 1977, Richard Serra made an unexpected contribution to the Whitney Museum's Biennial exhibition. Instead of his well-known, large-scale steel sculptures, he offered a wall-size abstraction he called an "Installation Drawing." Serra did not pay homage to the Whitney's Upper East Side location, but rather looked to his childhood in San Francisco's Ocean Beach, calling it Taraval Beach.
After the show closed, the piece was destroyed, but not forgotten by Gary Garrels, SFMOMA's senior curator of painting and sculpture. From the moment he began planning the recently ended exhibition, "Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective," Garrels knew Serra had to re-create Taraval Beach for the show. While SFMOMA already has significant sculptures by Serra, it lacked a large-scale drawing.
"In terms of Richard's development as an artist, it seems to me this is a pivotal moment," Garrels explained. In 1977, Serra began working with an entire wall, and the next year, Serra would not confine himself to a single surface, taking on whole rooms. Taraval Beach extends from the floor to the ceiling, and it was made specifically for the wall it is now adhered to by black, painted staples. From this point forward, if the work moves, so does the wall.
Asked whether he considered acquiring Taraval Beach three years ago, when it was confirmed on the exhibition checklist, Garrels nodded enthusiastically, enjoying what he sees as a homecoming for the work. Garrels has spent much time with Serra talking about 47th Avenue and Taraval, where the artist grew up, spending his days walking along the sand dunes and surfing after school.
Serra's lingering memories of Ocean Beach can be seen in Taraval Beach. Like the ocean, "Taraval Beach is both seductive and threatening," Garrels mused, standing far away from the work, and then moving closer, inspecting the results of the black paintstick, an oil-based crayon Serra used to create a dense, velvety surface that can easily overwhelm a visitor. "I feel it myself. I get to a certain point and it gets a little ominous. You have to push yourself to walk into it; it can swallow you up."
Taraval Beach is no loner on display but is a part of SFMOMA's permanent collection.