Richard Serra may be best known for his curving steel wall sculptures, iconic minimalist interventions in space, but his earlier works erred even more on the side of conceptually abstract. The artist’s 1967 “Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself” kicked off a body of work in which a single verb directly translated into art. Check out “Hands Scraping” (1968) above.

Verbs on that original list included “to roll,” “to crease” and “to fold,” among dozens of others. Each verb gave rise to a specific work. “Splashing” (1968) saw Serra throwing molten lead into the corners of his studio, allowing the liquid metal to go where it may. The action, signified by the verb, becomes the art, rather than the resultant object. Serra’s “Hand Catching Lead” (1968) is a similar piece in which a simple verb-based action becomes a powerfully minimal work of art.

The other hands in the “Scraping” video, besides Richard Serra’s? That’s Philip Glass, the famed minimalist composer. What’s so cool about these videos to me beyond their status as artifacts is their visual quality. The rough black and white film is pretty DIY, but it also gives the actions on display a striking contrast and graphic punch, highlighting movement and physical effort.

For fun, also see YouTube user mynameischarlie’s satirical “Hand Not Catching Lead” from October, 2008:

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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