When I entered the Grand Palais in Spring 2008 to see Richard Serra’s Promenade, I was overcome by a certain anxiety and a tinge of disappointment: where was it? Where was the sculpture? What was I supposed to be looking at? I couldn’t see what I was looking for. Familiar with Serra’s overwhelming torqued spirals that fi ll museums in New York, Bilbao, and Madrid, knowing their dominance and the disorientation they invoke, I assumed and expected Serra to fi ll the magnifi cent space of the Grand Palais in the same way. However, the all-embracing, almost claustrophobic intensity of the torqued spirals was nowhere to be seen inside the Grand Palais. Seen from the perpendicular perspective of the entrance, and also on the opposite side from the café, visitors had to search for Serra’s plates. There was nothing spectacular, nor monumental, even monolithic, but rather, in the Grand Palais, it took time to fi nd what we had come to see and to acclimate to the sculptural presence. It took time to adjust to the plates’ very slight width, their reach upwards, not towards the visitor, to the glass roof of the building. 2
Promenade comprised fi ve plates, each 56 feet high, 13 feet wide, and 5½ inches thick, weighing 73 tons. The plates were perfectly erect, evenly spaced along the central axis of the nave. Each was shallowly anchored in the ground, precisely placed and angled, leaning twenty inches in or away from its axis to create the shifting, unpredictable lines of sight familiar to Serra’s sculptures. The plates were quietly dramatic, serene, reaching as if against the force of gravity into the immense vault of the nave. More like an ancient mythological landform than sculpted steel, Promenade became integral to its environment.