chronological | Artists |

Richard Serra

The Drowned and the Saved

23.4. – 13.9.1992
The title of this sculptural work by Serra refers to the eponymous book of the Italian writer Primo Levi. Levi wrote:

We survivors are not only an exiguous but also an anomalous minority: we are those who (…) did not touch bottom. Those who did so, those who saw the Gorgon, have not returned to tell about it or have returned mute.

Two right angles, whose horizontal dimensions are longer than the vertical ones, so that they would invariably fall if they stood on their own, are facing each other, one propping up the other. The Drowned and the Saved. Serra does not attempt to create something with this sculpture that would match the experiences of the Holocaust. Rather, he reduces his vocabulary to elemental functions such as that of carrying, of weighing down, or of leaning against one another, and thereby avoids any concrete representation and analogy. The relationship of the saved to the drowned is a traumatic and burdening one. It is a dependency and an impossibility NOT to relate oneself to the other, or a compulsion of having to relate relentlessly. So the mutual support is not one of mutually propping each other up but of having to prop yourself up against your will. It is a coercive constellation, a relation emerging from the unspeakable experiences of the Holocaust. It is a hermetic relation that the observer cannot, or can only indirectly, empathise with, and so Serra’s sculpture confronts the visitor head-on, generating a silent and yet massive distance. At the same time, the anthropometric scale of the sculpture creates the possibility to let one’s own body, and with it one’s own experience, enter into a relationship with the hermetic and traumatic relation that is realised in the sculpture.