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Return of the lost Serra: Missing 38-tonne sculpture is “back”

MADRID. Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz
It had to be one of the most embarrassing losses ever suffered by a museum. In 2006 Madrid’s Reina Sofía Contemp­orary Art Museum admitted that it had lost a 38-tonne sculpture—Equal-Paral­lel/ Guernica-Bengasi, 1986—by the American artist Richard Serra. Perhaps most extraordinary was that it had been missing for 14 years without anybody noticing. Now, after an unusual agreement with the artist, the work is back in the museum and is expected to go on show in the early new year.

The sculpture was commissioned by the museum, and was on display for four years until 1990. When the museum decided to revamp its displays it was decided that, for the time being, the Serra piece was too large and it was sent to a private storage facility—Macarron—in Madrid.

In 2004, the museum’s incoming director, Ana Martínez de Aguilar, ordered an inventory of the pieces in the museum’s permanent collection with a view to reordering the displays. In 2005 she decided to include the Serra sculpture, which was when it was discovered that the storage company had gone into receivership in 1998 and the sculpture, consisting of four, 1.5 metre-wide blocks of steel, was nowhere to be found. The last documents relating to payments for storage were dated 1992.

Despite a police investigation, the former owner of the storage facility denied all knowledge of its whereabouts and it seemed that the museum was at a dead end, minus one giant sculpture.

However at the end of 2006 Richard Serra, who had been kept informed of all developments, agreed that an identical copy could be made by the German foundry with which he usually works. Serra would not be paid for the new commission. However, he insisted that it be made clear that “the Ministry of Culture and the Museum were responsible for what has happened”. The Reina Sofía would also be responsible for the fabrication costs of the remade work, around E83,500.

“This is not much if we consider that originally [we] paid E220,000 for the piece,” said Manuel Borja-Villel, current director of the Reina Sofía. “Its market value today would be out of our reach.” If the original sculpture reappears, it will be destroyed.

The remade work was exhibited at last year’s Serra retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and shipment to Spain has been paid by for by the American institution. The Reina Sofía expects the sculpture to be back on show around the end of December after the artist personally assembles the installation.