Richard Serra first began working with lead in 1968 by 'tearing' successive narrow strips from the edges of a sheet of lead laid on the floor. He made his first lead 'casting' by splashing molten lead into the junction of a floor and a wall, and his first lead 'rolls' by tightly rolling thin lead sheets into long poles. 'I wrote down a list of transitive verbs', Serra said, 'to split, to splash, to spread, to roll, to heap … and applied the infinitives.1 The first work which he made from a conjunction of these processes was Prop. 'The series of lead rolls was made from lead sheets', Serra recalled. 'I realised that I was making one form, the lead roll, and I wanted to combine it with the other form which was the sheet. It occurred to me that the roll could be used as a pole and the sheets could be propped from and off the wall without utilising a joint.2
The first Prop — the prototype of the work in the Australian National Gallery's collection — was made by Serra for his solo exhibition at the Rolf Ricke Gallery in Cologne in October 1968.3 A few months later, in December 1968, Serra made the Canberra Prop for the exhibition 'Nine at Castelli' at the Castelli Warehouse, New York, adopting slightly larger dimensions for the lead sheet and using lead alloyed with a small percentage of antimony to give the lead greater rigidity.4 Serra continued to reconstruct the work and make multiple variations on the theme of the prop for a number of exhibitions in 1969.5 All these pieces explore the effects of propping massive forms together purely by weight and gravitational pull.
The Prop in the Australian National Gallery was made in an edition of six by Serra for Leo Castelli Inc., New York, in 1968. Others from this edition are in the following collections: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Tremaine Collection, Hartford, Connecticut; Roger Davidson; and Gordon Locksley, Minneapolis.6
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.380.