The depth, leading towards the height

The huge colossal steel artwork standing there before me in the museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, the Netherlands, weighs no less than 216 ton and has a height of 4 meters. The flyer tells me that this sculpture consists of six upright-standing arched steel plates. Three of them form one spiral. While meandering, you can pass through two intertwined spirals. “Open Ended” would look like a labyrinth and yet not be one. My curiosity has been aroused.

The depth, leading towards the height

Despite the many tons of weight, the artwork – lead-footed heavy – gives the impression of weightlessness, as if the plates were placed without effort. The actually inflexible material looks incomprehensibly light and elegant. It seems as if the steel plates, as flexible as 150 grams paper, have without effort been shaped in an undulant way by the hands of the artist.

The graceful lines at the front suggest the nose of a vessel; however, I can enter here.

To the left and to the right walls of raw steel are rising high.

In between both of them a narrow path is formed. I walk and look upward. The light from above accompanies me. One wall leans somewhat over me; I feel included in the art work.

It is a vertiginous experience. No more straight lines, the horizon has disappeared.

The narrow, slanting corridors and the curvature in the walls present a distinctive experience of space. At the same time, how miraculous, I experience a different time, no longer linear. No, I feel as if I am whirling along in the curves, corridor after corridor, cyclic, continuing forever. Only the light in between those high rising spaces offers tenure.

The path turns with a sharp angle. The sound of my footsteps changes. Then I turn around another corner and suddenly find myself in the center, the heart of the art work. There, it is spacious and light! It has the shape of an eye. I entered on the one side, and now I see that I can exit on the other side!

Now I understand the title: ‘Open Ended‘.  There is no ending point. No one needs to return on the same path as in a labyrinth. The path continues.

The thought occurs to me that this is an art work with many contradistinctions. The lead-weighty that gives a weightless impression. The steel factory-like, fabricated by people, versus the organic forms of circles, ellipses and spirals, the natural.

Two intertwined spirals. Two corridors: one towards the heart and one out of the heart. Hollow and bulging walls, lying within each other and in the center facing each other. There, they together form the eye, the open, illuminated space.

The hollow will be full, the empty filled. 

Are these the words from the Daodejing?

And in the center we then find Dao’s spiritual essence, speaking to me:

Receiving everything, giving away everything.

It is not a maze in which you can get lost. Not a labyrinth in which you can only go in one direction. It is a passage! A movement of blending and merging into each other: involution and evolution. Depth and height. Time and eternity.

In between opposites, there is a path of life, my life!

Aimed towards the center: the heart, the soul, the spirit.

I do not know where the next bend will bring me, or when precisely the exit nears. The path becomes so narrow, that I can look at the walls from close by. The effect of time gives them a  corroding skin in which I can see the structure of flowers and suns.

Ahead of me, the path lightens up – the corridor catches more light – and then I step out of the art work, ‘into the open’: into a grand, breath-taking field of light. It overlooks a colorful garden.

When you make the two into one, when you make the inside similar to the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the above as the below, the outer as the most inner, then you will enter into the kingdom and become a son of man. [i]


About the artist:

Richard Serra is an American metal artist, born on November 2nd, 1939 in San Francisco.

He often uses large steel plates of simple forms, of which the construction is also misleadingly simple. For Serra it is about the relationship between the art work and the surrounding space. It does not matter if his steel plates are splitting through a mountain landscape, a museum hall or a busy city square – the plates are interacting with their surroundings. Through their precise situating they change the space perspective of the viewer.

His work is also compared to architecture and is constructed on ship wharves. A close team of engineers, steel workers and transporters cooperate in this work. However, not the final result, but the construction process is the starting point for Serra. When he speaks about that, he does not say ‘I’, but always ‘we’. 

Some of his works are:

Berlin Curves, 1986, Berlin.

King of New York, 2008, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Matter of Time, 2005 Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

East-West/West-East, 2014 landmark in the desert, Qatar.

In The Netherlands:

Open Ended, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar.

One, 1988 Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterloo.

Sea Level, 1989-1996, Zeewolde.

Growing arches, 1980, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

The hours of the day, 1990, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht.


[i] Thomas Gospel

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Date: October 16, 2021
Author: Ankie Hettema-Pieterse (Netherlands)
Photo: Bill Mead on Unsplash CCO

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