Home News Celebrated artist Richard Serra has been making Goatses his entire career

Celebrated artist Richard Serra has been making Goatses his entire career

The above photo is of Backdoor Pipeline, an installation piece by the famous artist Richard Serra. Like most of Serra’s work, the picture doesn’t really do it justice. It’s enormous, designed to be walked through, and the sheer weight of the bent steel is tangible when you’re in the room with it. It shapes the space around it, remaking the relationship between the viewer and the piece.

The pink lines aren’t part of the piece; I’ve added them to drive home how much it looks like Goatse.

(Quick note: I’m not going to link to Goatse or describe it in any way because it’s gross and awful. If you don’t already know what it is, please just close this tab, do not google it, and forget this ever happened.)

Turns out, a lot of Serra’s work bears the same resemblance! This is a sculpture called Tilted Spheres in the Toronto Airport. (Pink lines for emphasis.)

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Here’s an earlier work installed on a pedestrian island in Tribeca in 1979.

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I’m not going to embed them all, but I promise you there are a lot of other examples. Almost a weird amount! Once you see it, it’s hard to interpret the work any other way. It’s not just the sculptures either. Another thread in Serra’s work is painted circles, dozens of abstract compositions created from the same elemental shape.

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More recently, Serra’s non-sculptural work has shifted to Rothko-esque abstractions like the one below. I suppose the art critic’s take is that he’s concerned with organic forms and negative space, but it does tend to look like… well, you know.

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A couple days ago, some of the Verge culture folks were talking about memes (as you do) and Bijan asked what we would choose if we had to explain all of internet culture in a single meme, a kind of codex for the incomprehensible wilderness of in-jokes and formats that thrives in online space. As soon as we thought about it, it became obvious that it was Goatse.

Originally a single purpose shock site, Goatse has turned into a symbolic meme, a way to turn any vaguely circular image into something unspeakably filthy. As a recent Outline piece put it, the image is “so shocking that it forever brands your brain and you begin to notice it everywhere, in the same way that you might begin to notice a new favorite song in a commercial.” At the same time, the shape is so abstract that you could find it anywhere.

Most of these works were created before the advent of Goatse itself, but of course the shapes and body parts involved are fairly elemental. I reached out to Serra’s gallery to see if the sculptor is aware of Goatse, but haven’t heard back; we’ll update this piece with any response.