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NSCAD University mourns the loss of Richard Serra, 1938-2024

Richard Serra receives his honorary doctorate in 2004.
Professor Gerald Ferguson, Dr. Richard Serra, and President Paul Greenhalgh at honorary doctorate awards ceremoney 2004.

NSCAD University mourns the loss of artistic giant Richard Serra. Serra died at his home in Long Island on Tuesday, March 26. He was 85 years old. You can read obituaries of Richard Serra in the New York Times, in Hyperallergic and in newspapers around the world.

Serra had several connections with NSCAD over the years. He attended the now infamous “Halifax Conference” in 1970 but didn’t participate in the conference when he found out that the artists would be in one room and the students in another. Since 1970, Serra, and his wife, Clara Weyergraf-Serra, split their time between New York City and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. His time in Cape Breton was not for ‘vacation’ but a place for intellectual, creative and physical production. 

Most notably, Richard Serra received an honorary doctorate degree from NSCAD in 2004, and he addressed the Graduating Class during convocation. At the same time, the late Professor Gerald Ferguson had arranged with Serra to display five works in the 1995 suite entitled WM Prints at the Anna Leonowens Gallery. To the delight of everyone, Serra then donated the works to the University’s Permanent Collection.

Eric Fischl (DFA 2002), who taught at NSCAD from 1974-1978 and knew Serra, says he was ‘truly one of the greats’.

“I knew him to say hello and we were always cordial. He surprised me when he saw a show of my sculpture and made a point of telling me that he liked it. I was expecting a straight-out dismissal of my figurative works from the giant of reductive abstraction but he was generous in his compliment and said he could see that they were authentic.” 

“Nobody knew scale like he did. Not size but actual scale. The way the body related to each work so specifically. How it enlarged or shrunk you as you moved through it, all the while maintaining your sense of awe and wonder. End of an era. Thank god I was around when he was still on this earth.”

Richard Serra's WM etchings, given to NSCAD University in 2004.

The following text is taken from Canadian Cultural Property Review Board and gives some sense of the significance of his gift to NSCAD and of the artist’s deep relationship to Nova Scotia.

“WM Prints consists of five etchings created in I995 with reference to the sculpture Weight and Measure installed in London’s Tate Gallery in I992.  In these etchings, Mr. Serra placed the emphasis on the distinguishing relationship of two graphic elements.  By using a square, etched copper plate, 8I by 8I cm in size, Mr. Serra strategically placed inked plates on two abutted sheets of paper that vary in relationship to each other.  In each etching, a perceptible force-field develops between the two elements, a reciprocal relationship of attraction and repulsion.  Although each of the black elements is printed with the same plate, using slightly different sized sheets of paper, the fields seem different in each print and, above all, different in weight.”

Given the long connection between Serra and NSCAD, it was most fitting that this important selection of Serra’s work was left in public trust to the people of Canada and the province Nova Scotia through the auspices of NSCAD in its loan-agreement with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.