Walter de Maria was born in California in 1935. Studied art and history at the University of Calfornia Berkeley then moved to New York in 1960. He was heavily influenced by Dada and modern art movements and minimal art. He appeared at Happenings, composed 2 musicals (Cricket Music in 1964, Ocean Music in 1968) In 1969 he produced 2 films “Three Circles and Two Lines in the Desert” and “Hardcore”. He worked briefly with the Velvet Underground and was a drummer in the Primitives (a New York rock band).
His best known work is “The Lightening Field” from 1977. 400 stainless steel posts arranged in a grid over 1 mile x 1 km. The effects change depending on the weather and the time of day.
The notion of the work is intended to make the viewer think about the earth and its relationship to the universe.
In 1963 with Robert Whitman, De Maria co-founded a gallery at 9 Great Jones Street, Manhattan and he held a show of sculptures. is work was included in the “Primary Structures” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1966. He has also exhibited at the Kunsthaus Zurich, Museum fur Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt, the Straatsgalerie Stuttgart and the Museum Bormans-van-Beuningen Rotterdam.
My favourite piece of De Maria’s is “Vertical Earth Kilometer” from 1977 – it is a kilometer long brass rod sunk into the earth in Kassel, Germany making it a permanent earth sculpture. The only part that is visible is the very top of the pole that sits level with the ground. The rest of the work exists only in the mind of the viewer. I love the idea of the question of trust in the relationship between the artist and the audience – is there a brass rod here at all?
The Tate Online website states “This was the world where The Broken Kilometer (1979) appeared, barely 2 years after Documenta 6 in Kassel in 1977, for which the Dia Art Foundation had funded Walter De Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer. The city of Kassel was to receive this piece as a gift – hidden from view into a borehole in the ground. At that time in Germany, with the highest density of museums worldwide – there was little, if any understanding of the idea of a borehold into which 1,000 metres of solid brass cut into approximately 6 metre sections was to be inserted. And all that De Maria had been wanting to do was create something enduring and beautiful to anchor in some small way the viewer’s perceptions, in an attempt to counter the trend of that time. In the east a borehole was sunk at his behest. In the west, north of Quemado, in New Mexico, The Lightening Field (1977) was constructed: a deserted site, far away , filled with 400 stainless steel poles with pointed tips. The Broken Kilometer and The New York Earth Room (1977) were situated almost exactly half way between those two other places of pilgrimage.”
The Broken Kilometer is based at 393 West Broadway and is basically 500 polished solid brass rods, 2 meters in length and 5 centimetres in diameter. The rods are placed in 5 rows of 10 rods. It weighs 18 3/4 tons and if all the bits were laid end to end they would measure 3,280 feet. each rod is placed so that the spaces between each increase by 5mm, the first 2 rods in each row are 80 mm apart and the last 2 rods are 580 mm apart. It is illuminated by halide stadium lights and measures 45 feet x 125 feet long. De Maria likes numbers!!!