I skipped the Richard Serra opening at the Museum of Modern Art last Wednesday and took the train to the Jersey shore. I’ve been riding this train for 50 years and it is still as crappy as ever, although half an hour slower than it was in 1960.
Coming out of the rail yards and through the swamps, rust is everywhere. An abandoned warehouse in Secaucus sports the tags of ubiquitous 1990s graffiti artists "Revs" and "Costs" in large white letters. Otherwise the dominant color is brown. Rusted sheds twist, curve and gyrate near the tracks in the harsh sunlight, as if beckoning for a corpse or two. Rows of boxcars full of cartwheels of wire mesh seem to be parked for eternity.
Richard Serra is a famous liberal, like many of the governors of New Jersey, including "Society McGreevey," but liberalism in New Jersey remains a fig leaf for corruption and inertia. The feel of steel weathered into colors of autumn shit is distinctly reactionary. Didn’t anyone ever think to remove it as they did Tilted Arc?
Rust is a perverse source of inspiration, the beach without the sand and surf, the absence of a cool drink. Rust is familiarity, like the same train creaking along for half a century, the air conditioning broken, something down there caught on the track.
There is always a new large tag on the route; this time outside the Amboys, someone wrote in garish yellow and green, in huge letters, "DRUNK." It cuts either way: praise Serra for lifting chunks of hell off the tracks and lyrically dumping them into MoMA. Damn him for his stubborn elitism that this somehow is art.
There are plenty of Serras on the tracks to New Jersey. Perhaps we should hold an auction. Michael Kimmelman says that the latest Serras, shaped like crushed bottlecaps, are "too cute." To see where cuteness died, yea, never lived, let him come to New Jersey.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).