Richard Serra’s “Shift” Found to Lack Cultural Heritage Value

by Corinna Kirsch on November 28, 2012 · 5 comments Newswire

Richard Serra, "Shift", 1970-72. Image: Shawn Micallef

Like a rhino grazing in the bushy savanna, Richard Serra’s concrete sculpture Shift snakes through the grassy fields of Southern Ontario without much in the way of human attention. Now, any opportunity for viewing this piece in its undisturbed habitat could become a dream: the Ontario Conservation Review Board has refused to protect Serra’s work under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Only three members of the public attended the hearing that led to the OCRB’s refusal, which casts doubt in the necessity of such a designation. Witnesses in favor of Shift’s historic designation included Heritage Ottawa President, Leslie Maitland and landscape architect Wendy Shearer. Richard Serra was not in attendance.

As reported by Shawn Micallef in The Toronto Star, the review board’s decision against Shift came down to a a little clause in the Heritage Act that requires historic properties to have value for the “community.” Due to Shift’s secluded setting, which pretty much excludes a steady stream of visitors, no community value of the site could be determined by the board. In their final statement, they wanted to know:

How does Shift “contribute to an understanding of “a community or culture” in the context of the Act? For example, what “community” holds Shift as significant for cultural heritage value or interest reasons?

Two years after Serra completed Shift, its then owner Roger Davidson, sold off his farmland, including the land art to Hickory Hills Investments Inc., its current owner. For almost forty years, then, the work has remained true to the artwork’s original design to show  what Serra’s called “one’s relationship to the land”. But with the Ontario Conservation Review Board’s refusal to grant the site heritage status, not much stands in the way of alterations to the area surrounding the work.

In the US, the biggest proponents of land art preservation tend to be non-profit organizations like the Dia Art Foundation, which cares for many of the world’s barely-seen works in the American Southwest, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field. Wrestling Shift out of the hands of private ownership could give this work a new, secure life, where it can roam undisturbed across the Canadian plain.


Donald Frazell November 29, 2012 at 12:19 am

You mean desecration of the earth, right? This is the very opposite of ecological design, it and all land “art” is just egotistical hubris. Plays cute and clever at parties, but in the real world is nothing but destruction for the sake of domination of nature. It is man over creation. It is the arrogance before the fall.
Dumb too.

Elly Chang November 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Isn’t that interesting? Serra calls his work’s purpose as illustrating “one’s relationship to the land”. You’re purporting that land art is “nothing but destruction for the sake of domination of nature”. Seems to me that a whole lot of the world has spent its past 20 years (at least) doing nothing more than just that. Forests bulldozed away for fuel, previously inhabited land infiltrated for “development”. Only now has most of humankind come to “realize” that there’s a necessity to preserve this land known as the face of Earth. We’ve fallen yet many large corporations remain in denial of such a fall. Still, that’s where the money is, where the “future of our children” lies…so they must be right…right?

Donald Frazell November 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm

That’s for survival and real life, you wouldn’t have the privileged lifestyle to be an artiste without it, but desecrating for absolutely no reason but to elevate ones own ego? Now THAT is a sin.

Elly Chang November 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm

You’re making quite a few assumptions and abstract justifications about ego and sin.

Donald Frazell November 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm

How? Evil is simply all consuming selfishness, good complete selflessness. Pretty simple, and easy to prove. Think about it.
Meaningless Temples of hubris to oneself pretty much fit the former.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: