Richard Serra, now internationally famous for his large-scale site-specific sculptures, was at the forefront of a group of young American sculptors whose work, beginning in the mid-1960s, constituted a reaction against the rational geometries of Minimalism. These so-called Post-Minimalists, including artists Barry LeVa and Alan Saret, created sculpture with the freedoms of technique and media that the Abstract Expressionist painters had established in the previous decade.
Using such materials as rubber and molten lead, Serra made a body of work throughout the late 1960s that celebrated its economy of means even as it accomplished monumental gestures. In his prototypical Prop pieces of 1968-69, Serra leaned slabs and rolls of lead against one another, creating a gravity-bound abstraction without welding or any kind of artificial joint. Carnegie is a heroic demonstration of that aesthetic, a vertical arrangement of enormous steel slabs supporting one another's weight, and like all of Serra's work, it responds to its site. The three-story-high sculpture is an enormous, animated composition of planes meant to respond in its mass and gravity to architect Edward Larrabee Barnes's monolithic Museum of Art (1974).
Serra's Carnegie can likewise be seen as an architectural form. The six planes of a room have been altered here so that, in walking into Serra's hollow taper, one feels the applied pressure of the four skewed walls and their top plane, the sky. The work's title is the artist's salute to Andrew Carnegie, the founder of both the Museum of Art and the industrial behemoth that became U.S. Steel.