Heavy Metal

Richard Serra at the Art Gallery of Ontario is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Our toughest sculptor films our mighty industrial past.

The latest installment in our “video week” presents a moment from the wonderful film called “Railroad Turnbridge”, shot by Richard Serra in 1976 and now on view (as a digital projection) at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. (Click on the image to view a clip). The film is nothing more than some black-and-white footage of the massive piece of equipment – usually known as a “swing bridge” – that allowed ships on the Willamette River near Portland to pass to either side of a crossing train track. (The bridge still seems to exist, but now rises up instead of swinging.) In this clip, shot from the bridge-deck itself, the railroad equipment is cleverly assimilated to the camera that is shooting it – with a further parallel being drawn, maybe, between the force of heavy industry in society and the power of central perspective in art. Other passages in the film are more about documenting the machinery itself, and its insanely massive construction. They make you realize how profoundly Serra’s famous heavy-metal sculptures are rooted in the moment of their making, when the heyday of America’s heavy industry was coming to its end. Who would have thought that such tough-guy work had a nostalgic, almost sentimental side?

For a full visual survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.