Heavy Metal

By Anh-Minh Le

In a homecoming of sorts — and no small feat — a titanic Richard Serra work is reinstalled on the Stanford campus.

Richard Serra’s sculpture Sequence courtesy of the Cantor Arts Center.

During the third week of January, if you were traveling on the stretch of I-280S between San Francisco and the Peninsula, you may have glimpsed an unusual sight (and quite understandably done a double take): a series of full-size tractor trailers, each loaded with a massive plate of steel weighing between 20 and 25 tons. After arriving at their destination — Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center — the 12 curved plates would be reassembled into a form that local art enthusiasts are likely familiar with: Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006).

Four years after departing Stanford, the towering steel sculpture is returning. During its hiatus from campus, it occupied the lobby of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it was placed even before the expanded institution opened in 2016. As of February 6, as part of a long-term loan from the Donald and Doris Fisher Family, it will once again be on view on the concrete courtyard between the Cantor and the Anderson Collection — covering the rusty footprint its figure-eights left behind in 2015 and beckoning visitors to wander through its sinuous walls.

The reinstallation allows the piece to be enjoyed outside, which, with the natural light and fresh air, some consider an ideal set-ting for this type of work. “Being able to be inside a Richard Serra and then look up at the skies is a unique experience,” says Aleesa Alexander, the Cantor’s assistant curator of American art. “It’s just a different effect than when it’s indoors. The metal interacts with weather, of course, and ages in a really beautiful way when it’s exposed to the elements.”

Richard Serra (U.S.A., b. 1938), Sequence, 2006. Weatherproof steel. Lent by the Doris and Don Fisher Collection. © Richard Serra.

Prior to its initial four-year stint at Stan-ford, Sequence spent time at the New York Museum of Modern Art (2007-08) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2008-11). Each time it was moved, Joe Vilardi and his team at Budco Enterprises were tasked with the undertaking. Their previous experience with not only this artwork, but also the two locations, meant that some of the legwork had already been done for this latest relocation.

“The process of dismantling the sculpture at SFMoMA and bringing it back to Stanford is pretty much just the reverse of what we did when we moved it from Stanford to SFMo-MA,” says Vilardi, whose New York-based rigging firm has also handled transport for large-scale works by Tómas Saraceno, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Ellsworth Kelly.

By the Numbers:

67 length in feet

42 width in feet

13 height in feet

235 weight in tons

12 tractor-trailers carried each of the sculpture’s individual plate

While most jobs would require working a year in advance, in this case, Budco required only about five months. “Some aspects get easier,” he continues. “For example, we have great records now as to exactly where each plate needs to be placed on a truck to be properly balanced for transport. We also know the exact pick points of each plate, not just for lifting off the truck but also for joining one plate to the next.”

One complication this time around, he notes, is that the SFMo-MA building is now complete; it was essentially a construction site when Sequence was installed there. In preparation for the shift back to Stanford, Vilardi shipped out five tractor-trailer loads of tools and equipment.

A time-lapsed video of the reinstallation will be posted on the Cantor website ( And the sculpture’s comeback is part of a busy month at the muse-um. On February 23, three exhibitions open: Josiah McElheny’s Island Universe, Kerry Tribe’s The Elusive Word and Shannon Ebner’s Stray: A Graphic Tone. “In the month of January, there wasn’t a lot that you could really experience because many of the galleries were closed for installation,” says Alexander. “But in February, we are heralding a dynamic trio of forward-thinking and category-defying exhibitions that address some of society’s most pressing contemporary concerns.”

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