About us
Walter de Maria Photo

Walter de Maria

American Sculptor and Conceptual Artist

Movements and Styles: Earth Art, Post-Minimalism, Conceptual Art

Born: October 1, 1935 - Albany, CA

Died: July 25, 2013 - Los Angeles, CA

Walter de Maria Timeline

Important Art by Walter de Maria

The below artworks are the most important by Walter de Maria - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Mile Long Drawing (1968)
Artwork Images

Mile Long Drawing (1968)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work consisted of two parallel lines drawn with chalk twelve feet apart, extending for one mile in the Mojave Desert in California. It was a simple and temporary piece, and one of the first of de Maria's works associated with the Land art movement, moving beyond the boundaries of gallery-based art as he brought a minimalist ideology outdoors into the landscape. The two dramatic lines focus attention on the characteristics of order, space, time, and measurement, and through this, de Maria began to explore some of the ways that people categorize nature along with the human impulse to make marks in the external world, possibly pointing to the ancient Inca Nazca Lines.

The work also calls attention to the ephemerality of time, as its marks faded with the effects of the natural world. This ephemerality asks viewers to meditate on the reality of their lives as well, where change is constant and nothing remains intact forever. As the Mile Long Drawing disappears into its desert landscape it reflects upon time and memory. It becomes a living artwork revealing multiple meanings as its visual aspects change.

Triangle, Circle, Square (1972)
Artwork Images

Triangle, Circle, Square (1972)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work consists of three brushed stainless steel sculptures, each approximately 3 feet (1 meter) inwidth and length. The simple geometric forms demonstrate de Maria's earlier interests in minimalist sculptures, and his more conceptually-oriented inspiration fromZen Buddhist thinking. Asian influence was large during the 1960's in American art, as artists sought to transform human consciousness through a religious-like contemplation present in Asian philosophies. The Zen influence permeated the arts scene in many ways with notions of simplicity, sensitivity to nature, and a leaning towards intuition over rationalist knowledge. This particular piece was inspired by the work of a Japanese Zen monk named Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) and his painting Circle, Triangle, and Square in which he attempted to decidedly embody the universe. These three forms have been interpreted as geometries that represent infinity. They are interactive works and are a part of a game experience. They have hollow interiors with metal spheres within and come with instructions that the pieces are, "to disturb the purity of the symbol." This work also represents his involvement in the participatory "happenings" of the 1950's and his interest in task-like projects that were audience-interactive and game-like, proposing an approach to art-viewing that shifted from passive viewer experiences to more socially engaged encounters.

The Lightning Field (1977)
Artwork Images

The Lightning Field (1977)

Artwork description & Analysis: This may be De Maria's most famous work. It is an expansive installation of 400 stainless steel poles placed in a one-mile by one-kilometer grid. The rods are each two inches in diameter but extend upwards at varying heights ranging from 15 feet to 26 feet nine inches, in order to create a perfectly horizontal plane where their pointed tips stop.

This work is a significant piece of the Land art movement of the late 1960's, which began in the Southwestern United States. This piece lives in an obscure desert plain near Quemado, New Mexico, specially selected for its frequent lightning storms and isolation. The work incorporates the natural environment into art in a meaningful way, seeing the land as a critical aspect of the work, not merely a site for it. The locale was scouted precisely for its distance from other signs of human development and its ability to reflect the enormity of the landscape. The work communicates a variety of experiences of being in the landscape, and simultaneously asks individual visitors to meditate on the moment, while contemplating shifts in light and perceptions of time and space in their changing vastness.

The poles were placed outside, rather than in a museum or gallery so the work reveals the significance of the setting, beyond the built, sculptural aspect. The title calls attention to the tantalizing possibility of highly ephemeral illumination from irregularly occurring natural lighting strikes, potentially drawn down from the sky into the field by the rods. It also calls for awareness of the surrounding landscape, and the relationship between art and nature. The earth is an integral part of the artwork and acts as a canvas while also drawing attention to the sky as part of the larger environment, and our relationship to it. Visitors must travel to this remote location in order to view the work, therefore incorporating the journey away from the everyday as part of the experience of the piece, which initiates a total immersion of the senses while creating an unusual degree of intimate encounter with a liberating spirit.

The New York Earth Room (1977)
Artwork Images

The New York Earth Room (1977)

Artwork description & Analysis: The New York Earth Room is both an art installation and an earth sculpture re-located in an interior setting. It consists of three connected gallery rooms in a loft at 141 Wooster St. in New York City, which are filled with 250 cubic yards of soil. This work is one example of De Maria's approach to Land art, while also demonstrating his investment in minimalistic and conceptual art practices. The dirt covers 3,600 square feet of floor space, with a depth of 22 inches, and a weight of 280,000 pounds. Upon entering the gallery one can smell the musty earth, and sense the warm humidity of the air. By placing something so simple and commonplace into a gallery setting, De Maria pushed the boundaries of what art can consist of. He highlighted the natural world while implying a critique of the usual material practices and values of the art world. This work, associated with the Land art movement, was rare in bringing parts of the natural environment into the art world instead of putting art into the environment. Through the familiar gallery lens, visitors are invited to reconsider their associations with the Earth. The space becomes a frame that prompts introspection regarding one's relationship to nature. This concept works especially well in in the very urban setting of New York City, proposing dirt as more valuable than it is often seen as or understood to be. It also challenges the typical experience of interacting with earth and soil, repurposing meanings of what both art and what nature might be. The dark brown soil remains watered by longtime caretaker Bill Dilworth, whose attention has allowed for the experience to continue for over thirty years from its inception.

The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977)
Artwork Images

The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work is a one kilometer long solid brass rod that is five centimeters in diameter. The rod has been inserted completely into the ground in a city park in Kassel, Germany, so that the top of the rod is flush with the surface of the earth. Thus the piece primarily exists beneath the surface of the earth, and viewers can only see the very top of the work. The top is flat and circular and is surrounded by a red sandstone plate that is two meters square. One must search for the piece since it is in an unassuming location and position in the landscape, therefore emphasizing the importance of the search and the journey itself. This seeking out is a significant part of experiencing the artwork. Viewers are left to imagine the associated space and distance. The long rod extends through six geological layers in one continuous kilometer. The abstraction of these concepts becomes its own focus. The physical measurement is hidden and so viewers' notion of the idea of measurement comes into play. The piece was controversial, as it was a costly and laborious installation, where in the end almost nothing remained to show for it in the visible realm, requiring viewers to solely conceptualize.

The Broken Kilometer (1979)
Artwork Images

The Broken Kilometer (1979)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Broken Kilometer is a work composed of 500 solid brass rods that collectively weigh nearly nineteen tons. It continues as another of De Maria's permanent installations in a New York City gallery space. This particular work lives at 393 West Broadway. This piece is a quintessential example of de Maria's modernist paradigm of display and perception. The rods have been meticulously installed in a large open room with Corinthian columns. They fill the length of the space, lined up perfectly in five rows. This piece explores issues related to landscape in a more oblique and measured way than most works by artists associated with Land Art. The importance of site in traditional Land Art is turned on its head here. Instead, de Maria offers the idea of a sort of "non-site," where the conceptual idea supersedes anything else.

One trajectory of the work is to suggest meditation on the very idea of units of measure. Each rod is two meters long, two inches in diameter and spaced apart by 5mm. If placed end to end, the rods would extend to one kilometer, but in the mode in which they are displayed, they form an array measuring 45 foot wide by 125 feet deep. The piece proposes that, with a shift in layout and perception, what seems simple might actually be more complex. This is a very representative aspect of de Maria's aesthetic, where working with exceptionally simple elements and themes, he creates a greater depth of perceptual understanding. Following the precepts of minimalism, the work's composition establishes a high degree of order, as the rods are meticulously organized in symmetrical form. He addresses the idea of an unseen or abstracted distance, where the gallery itself encompasses the unit of measurement, the kilometer, as it is broken down to allow for contemplation. In this act de Maria reveals the arbitrary nature of distance, but also heightens the viewer's ability to conceptualize it.



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Walter de Maria Photo

Related Art and Artists

A Line Made By Walking (1967)
Artwork Images

A Line Made By Walking (1967)

Movement: Earth Art

Artist: Richard Long

Artwork description & Analysis: Made while Richard Long was a student in London, A Line Made By Walking documents a work he created as he walked back and forth across the same path in Wiltshire. Here, Long emphasizes the experiential factor of nature through the act of walking and the temporal factor involved in artistic practice, while also having an impact on the land. The subject matter is the interaction of the journey, marking the ground, and making a simple adjustment to the landscape. With its simple, geometric shape and minimal intervention on the site, the work is also reminiscent of - and perhaps influential to - later Minimalist works such as Richard Serra's To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Plates Inverted (1970). Like most Earthworks, the piece is site specific and ephemeral. The photographs document the work's temporary existence, but do not solely constitute the work itself. While the photographs simply mark the performance of the work, the documentation process was sometimes important to artists working in Earth art, as it was often the only way to evidence the creation of the work. The work was groundbreaking in its utter simplicity and ephemerality as it would have been invisible within hours or days as nature would have taken its course, thus also making the piece useless as a commodity object.

Documentation of performance

Grapefruit (1964)
Artwork Images

Grapefruit (1964)

Movement: Conceptual Art

Artist: Yoko Ono

Artwork description & Analysis: Yoko Ono's extremely plain-looking and oddly titled book, Grapefruit, first released in 1964, is an important early example of Conceptual art and of the link between it and Fluxus. Although the work, technically speaking, is an object, the art extends beyond its material constraints as it contains a series of artistic "event scores" - various instructions for readers to carry out, if they so choose. Listing some 150 sets of instructions divided into five sections (Music, Painting, Event, Poetry, and Object), Grapefruit acts as something of a user's manual in the Fluxus tradition with a perspective similar to Joseph Beuys's that "every human being is an artist." This book not only subordinates the importance of the physical object to the document or springboard for artistic practice, but also allows for execution of the works by anyone, potentially resulting in an infinite number of artworks stemming from one source. As with other Conceptual works, however, whether the instructions are in fact carried out is of little importance, as the artistic idea is paramount.

Book - First edition of 500, Wunternaum Press, Tokyo

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Laura Fiesel

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Laura Fiesel
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]