In the Eighties Serra created one of the most controversial works of public art of the 20th century, a curved wall of steel entitled Tilted Arc . It stood, 12 feet high and 120 feet long, in Federal Plaza in Manhattan for just eight years, while local opposition reached such a pitch that, after a combative public hearing in 1985, a jury voted that the piece should be dismantled and removed. Serra sued the federal government over the issue of ownership but, after a protracted and bitter court battle, lost his appeal. In May 1989 the piece was cut into three parts and consigned to a New York warehouse where it has languished ever since.
‘I don’t think it is the function of art to be pleasing,’ a bruised but bullish Serra said at the time. ‘Art is not democratic. It is not for the people.’ His attitude did little to endear him to the New York public, even as the contemporary art world rallied around him.