Walter de Maria, who was born in 1935 in Albany, California, is best known for his "Lightning Field" (1971-1977), in New Mexico. In this permanent environmental installation, Walter de Maria was interested in understanding the relationship of the ground to its atmosphere. The structure is composed of 400 stainless steel poles arranged in a rectangular grid, which covers a section of land one mile by one kilometer. The lightning poles harness the electricity which charges trough the air into the ground. To experience the work's intense power, it should be viewed for an extended period of time. The Dia Center for the Arts commissioned this installation and continues to maintain it. They also offer overnight visits to the "Lightning Field" for small groups scheduled in advanced.
In addition to Walter de Maria's interest in the relationship of the earth and the atmosphere, he has explored the concept of order through mathematical relationships, such as distance and measure.
"Broken Kilometer" made in 1979, consists of 500 highly, polished, brass rods, each two meters in length, and 5 centimeters in diameter arranged in five parallel rows in a gallery space in New York's Soho at 393 West Broadway. This space is also supported by the Dia Center. The distance between each rod is increased by five millimeters with each consecutive space, from front to back. The sculpture weighs the enormous amount of nearly nineteen tons. To allow for such a piece to reside within the gallery, the floors had to be provided with additional support.
"Broken Kilometer" is a companion piece to "Vertical Earth Kilometer" which consists of a brass rod one kilometer long buried vertically in the ground outside the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel for Documenta VI in 1977. This piece is impossible to see beneath the ground, therefore the reality of the rod pierced through the earth for one kilometer needs to be taken on faith.
Other works made by Walter de Maria which need faith to believe their dimensions are his earth rooms. Walter de Maria has made three earth rooms during his career so far. His first was called "50 m3 Level Dirt" made in 1968 which filled the Friedrich's Munich Gallery with dirt to a depth of one meter. It was impossible to view the entire gallery space to see if it was entirely covered, for the viewer could only see it from the doorway. The viewer had to either imagine the work or just simply believe that it did exist as described.
The next earth room was made in Darmstadt, Germany in 1974. Both the first and second earth rooms no longer exist. The third earth room called "The New York Earth Room" was commissioned and is maintained by the Dia Center in 1977. This earth sculpture expands 197 cubic meters utilizing 335 square meters of floor space filled to a height of 22 inches. Again, the gallery space had to be reinforced to withstand the total weight of 280,000 lbs. The work is on the second floor of a building at 141 Wooster Street in Soho in New York. To reach the work, you must ascend a very steep staircase. As you move up the stairs, you begin to smell the earth and to feel the humidity that it usually holds. At the top of the stairs is a small foyer where you can look into the first of three rooms. In the doorway is a sheet of glass that prevents the dirt from spilling out. "The New York Earth Room" has been open to the public since 1980.
Walter de Maria produced work with an interest in mathematical relationships in his recent installation completed in 2000. The new work entitled "Seen/Unseen Known/Unknown" located at Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum Seaside Gallery consists of two large granite spheres, each weighing nine tons with a diameter of 184.2 centimeters along with two cement pedestals and wooden sculptures with gold leaf. Walter de Maria passed away in 2013.
Page author: L.C.