On Monday, June 1, 2015, Gérard Araud, Ambassador of France to the United States, honored artist Richard Serra with the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in a ceremony at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York City.
Dear Richard Serra,
Chère Bénédicte de Montlaur,
Today it is my great privilege to decorate one of the most impactful artists of our time, Richard Serra.
Richard Serra, has produced works that critics call “monumental,” and “disorienting” and “reassuring” – all in one breath.
From his early “Scatter Pieces” to “The Matter of Time” and his more recent “East-West/West-East,” Richard Serra has revolutionized the fundamental language of sculpture, from the materials, to the size and the relationship with space and the spectator.
Your creations are born of both the word and the sketch and are realized by an artist-engineer’s spirit. They make space expand or contract. They reveal a new consciousness or awaken us to a vertiginous and unforgettable sensation of vastness and motion. At the core of your sculptures is an essential paradox: they convey both a power and timelessness, plunging us into a strange and fascinating mind space.
Richard Serra, you have exhibited pieces all over the world, and of course, all over France. Without you, art in France would not have been the same.
You planted roots in France early in your artistic career. A Fulbright grant took you to Paris in 1964, where you waited for glimpses of your idol, Alberto Giacometti, at the café La Coupoule. You reported that the great sculptor “would turn up for a drink late at night with plaster in his hair.” In Paris, you grew inspired by Brancusi’s workshop, how he altered the viewer’s perception of space with just a few lines.
There you also met your friend, the composer Philip Glass, who later accompanied your Promenade sculpture with music in the Grand Palais. I am honored to say that your time in Europe marked one of the pivotal transitions from painter to sculptor.
Your love affair with Paris and France did not stop there. Your commissions like Octagon for Saint Eloi in Burgundy, and Philibert et Marguerite in the cloister of the Musée de Brou at Bourg-en-Bresse, transform and give new meaning to the landscape. Other sculptures of yours have illuminated many locations in Paris including the Centre National d’Art Contemporain, the Louvre, and the Centre Pompidou.
For your Promenade in 2008, five gigantic steel slabs were installed in the Grand Palais. You consistently give the public a novel artistic experience, stripped of mediation and representation.
“Promenade” turned out to be nothing short of a masterpiece. I hear you consider this exhibition to be a “gift from France” – but I would say the opposite; your sculpture is a gift to us.
The words of art historian Robert Hughes sum it up: most consider you to be simply the “best sculptor alive.” Richard, for your exceptional contribution to art, past, present, and future, it is my great pleasure to bestow the distinction of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.
Richard Serra, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons les insignes de Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.