Photos by Molly Waterman
If you follow me on Instagram you already got an eyefull of our trip to Doha a couple weeks ago. We were there, basically, to see a whole lot of Richard Serra, which we did over three days. I wrote a piece about it for Hyperallergic, which they posted last week. I wanted to get to the bottom of the Qatar Museums Authority’s social media campaign surrounding the work — some of which, including the two pieces featured in photos above, are permanent installations. The QMA’s website for the Serra shows encourages viewers to register their feelings on encountering the art. At first I thought that was a strange request for a conceptual artist:
The emphasis here on affect responds directly to the QMA’s public relations and social media campaigns surrounding these works, which ask viewers to tweet about the work using the phrase “I felt” and the hashtag #serraqatar. Or you can log in to the QMA website and record your feelings there, where they will be incorporated into a constantly updated visualization of the feelings of all respondents.
On one hand, the QMA’s approach is a brilliant piece of marketing, prescribing for its public the desired response to a Serra piece: an examination of one’s emotional reception of the work. The injunction to feel — and to feel as others feel — aims to disarm the knee-jerk response of those whose unfamiliarity with the work or hostility to modernist sculpture might cause them to reject it outright. The leading question “How will you feel?” functions as an invitation to visit the shows and experience them in person, as does the social media impulse not to miss out on what others are doing. But the turn to affect or emotion also seems to forestall the intellectual work provoked by conceptual art. To say you feel small or powerful or lost seems to be a lesser-order response than to talk about how a work reshapes the spatial or temporal dimensions of an environment or calls into question the tradition of monumental public art itself.
Ultimately, though, I come around to the idea that gauging your feelings is a perfectly appropriate thing to do in response to Serra’s work. To get there I take a detour through the controversy surrounding Serra’s Tilted Arc, installed in lower Manhattan’s courthouse district for most of the 1980s before being removed to appease people who hated it. Read the rest over there, but feel free to come back here and let me know what you think. What was your first encounter with Serra? How does his work make you feel? Make you feel like visiting Doha maybe? I, for one, can’t wait to go back, and only wish I’d made it to Manhattan in time to see this beauty: