Richard Serra: TOP TEN BOOKS


Richard Serra photographed by Matthew Sumner

Large-scale sculptor Richard Serra, who died in March 2024, achieved success as one of America’s great artists for his colossal sculptures, often made from raw steel, with a sense of movement and flow that was uniquely his own. Although he began his career as a painter, he moved towards sculpture after visiting Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” at the Prado Museum in Madrid and bumping up against the limits of his own skill. As a sculptor his work invited close contact , pulling viewers between and around and through his giant installations. Serra curated this list of his ten favorite books to One Grand Books in 2016. 

Below are Richard Serra’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


Self-Reliance and Other Essays

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I read “Self-Reliance” when I was 17 as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in the ‘50s. In this short essay, Emerson takes a stance against conformity and insists on trusting your own judgement, on finding your own path, on living in the present and augmenting what is unique to your own character. These are the principles that have shaped my life and work.
Add to cart

Camera Lucida

Roland Barthes
What I find interesting in Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” is the distinction he makes between studium — what anyone recognizes at first glance as the general content of a photograph — and punctum, a very personal emotion or desire evoked by a detail in that same photograph. It is a switch from the objectification of the reproduction on a piece of paper to a purely subjective connection.
Add to cart

Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Italo Calvino
This small publication of Calvino’s Charles Eliot Norton lectures given at Harvard in 1985 is divided into five topics: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility and multiplicity. Each essay is insightful and poetic, lyrical, a joy to read and re-read, an enduring primer for me.
Add to cart

On Grief and Reason

Joseph Brodsky
“Grief and Reason” is the book I most often return to. It contemplates death as it has been presented in prose and poetry over the ages. The book continually asks the question of whether loss creates a sense of self or destroys it. It also poses the question of whether loss or mourning can bring forth a new artistic language.
Add to cart

Poems of Paul Celan

Paul Celan
From the first lines of Celan’s “Todesfuge”: Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown/ we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night/ we drink and we drink it Celan’s poems are terrifying and beautiful, many of them reflect his experience of the Holocaust. His parents died in a concentration camp, he was imprisoned in a labor camp. Language is Celan’s tool of combat and survival, and of the evocation of memory. I have always preferred poetry and prose to fiction. Poetry condenses.
Add to cart

The Book of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa
My admiration for Pessoa goes beyond reading his prose. I am in awe of his invention of the heteronym which allows him to be a multitude of authors. Pessoa creates different authors with different languages, voices, putting forth different, often contradictory representations of the world. His strategy is not to be confused with appropriation. All voices/authors are original and distinct. The lesson I took from Pessoa is that I must constantly distance myself from the activity of making so that I can observe my work from a vantage point other than my own.
Add to cart

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Shunryu Suzuki
I am not a Buddhist, but I have learned a great deal from Suzuki’s concept of “beginner’s mind.” In meditation you sit and concentrate on your posture and breathing. The purpose of meditation is to empty your mind and ready your awareness for anything and everything that will flow so that you can always be a beginner.
Add to cart

The Logic of Sense

Gilles Deleuze
Deleuze interrogates language revealing all its inescapable paradoxes, distinctions, irresolutions and contradictions. The book begins with Louis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland” and her confusion with language, and immediately moves into the Stoic’s definition of the effect of words and events, including sense and nonsense. All words, all logical representations are challenged. This book is a mind bender and a must-read.
Add to cart

The Shape of Time

George Kubler
Kubler considers all manmade objects as products of human needs. Everything, from tools to objects of aesthetic value (artwork) is analyzed based on the understanding that innovation is always prompted by a problem that needs to be solved. Kubler introduces the concept of the “prime object,” which can exist in physical form or as an idea. He posits that everything is based on a prime object and all that develops from that prime object are mere replications and reproductions. This book has shaped my determination to innovate and to avoid the mannerisms of appropriation.
Add to cart

The Anxiety of Influence, A Theory of Poetry

Harold Bloom
A young poet who is up against old masters must clear an imaginative space for himself through a creative misunderstanding or misreading of the poets of the past. Bloom defines six categories of overcoming the influence of precursors. He calls these categories “Revisionary Ratios.” They are useful to all artists.
Add to cart