(1935 – 2013), United States

Walter De Maria Biography

Walter De Maria was involved in a range of movements within the art scene of 1960s New York. A pioneer of not only Minimalism and Conceptual art, but also Land art and Installation art, he is perhaps best known as a Land artist, alongside contemporaries such as Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson.

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Originally from California, De Maria moved to New York in 1960. At that time, he began incorporating the philosophies of Land art into his practice, writing proposals such as Art Yard (1960), in which he outlined an event where machines would dig a large hole and spectators would watch. However, this artwork lives only in text.

Alongside these initial experiments, De Maria was informed by the Minimalist awareness of the white cube gallery space. With this knowledge he decided to reject traditional art settings, turning to landscapes such as that of the Mojave Desert and New Mexico for exhibition spaces.

The Dia Art Foundation financed the artist's most famous site-specific installations and is the reason they are still viewable today. The best known of these works is The Lightning Field (1977): a grid delineated by 400 stainless steel poles 20 feet and 7.5 inches tall (on average), spaced 220 feet apart within a one-kilometre-by-one-mile area. Lightning rarely strikes, but even without lightning the installation maintains moments of breathtaking beauty, especially when the light of the rising or setting sun reflects off the poles. Though the poles are of varying height depending to the height of the ground they are standing on, their solid pointed tips delineate a consistently level horizontal plane. Within the urban setting of New York, Dia facilitated the artist's The New York Earth Room (1977)—an installation in which De Maria filled the floor of a loft with 22 inches of dirt. The presence of such a large quantity of earth makes the air of the space dense and moist. This gesture was carried out twice prior to New York, the first iteration taking place in Munich in 1968.

Another of De Maria's Dia artworks is The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977)—A solid brass rod two inches in diameter and one kilometre long, inserted one kilometre into the ground of Kassel, Germany, so only the very top of the rod (its cross section) is visible, flush to the surface of the ground. A two-metre-square red sandstone plate, with the circular end of the rod visible at its centre, also rests on the ground. A pair with The Vertical Earth Kilometer, The Broken Kilometer (1979) in New York is an installation of 500 two-metre brass rods, solid and again two inches in diameter, arranged in five rows. The Broken Kilometer divides up the kilometre that The Vertical Earth Kilometer hides in the earth.

De Maria received both his BA and his MA from the University of California, Berkeley. His permanent, long-term, and commissioned sculptural installations can be found in the USA, Germany, France, and Japan.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2019

Walter De Maria
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Ball Drop by Walter De Maria contemporary artwork sculpture
Walter De Maria Ball Drop, 1961–1964 Grey stain, graphite and paint on plywood, with solid wood ball, in two parts
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