Famed American artist and sculptor Richard Serra, known for turning curving walls of rusting steel and other malleable materials into large-scale pieces of outdoor artwork that are now dotted across the world, died Tuesday at his home in Long Island, New York. He was 85.

Considered one of his generation’s most preeminent sculptors, the San Francisco native originally studied painting at Yale University but turned to sculpting in the 1960s, inspired by trips to Europe.

His death was confirmed Tuesday night by his lawyer, John Silberman, whose firm is based in New York. He said the cause of death was pneumonia.

Known by his colleagues as the “poet of iron,” Serra became world-renowned for his large-scale steel structures, such as monumental arcs, spirals and ellipses. He was closely identified with the minimalist movement of the 1970s.

Serra’s work started to gain attention in 1981, when he installed a 120-foot-long (36.5-meter-long) and 12-foot-high (3.6-meter-high) curving wall of raw steel that splits the Federal Plaza in New York City. The sculpture, called “Tilted Arc,” generated swift backlash and a fierce demand that it should be removed. The sculpture was later dismantled, but Serra’s popularity in the New York art scene had been cemented.

In 2005, eight major works by Serra measuring were installed at the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. Carmen Jimenez, the exhibition organizer, said Serra was “beyond doubt the most important living sculptor.”

Before his turn to sculpting, Serra worked in steel foundries to help finance his education at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses of the University of California. He then went on to Yale, where he graduated in 1964.

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