Walter De Maria


Foreword by David Neuman, director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Walter De Maria essay by Jeanne Silverthorne.

Exhibition catalogue no 2.
40 pages, color, soft cover. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 1988 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Price: 150 SEK (approx. 16 EUR)

Walter De Maria by Jeanne Silverthorne

Time passes and the vision of Walter De Maria’s radical newness fogs over. The context of art is now an object of scrutiny. Charged with certain insensitivities, De Maria is no longer deemed innocent. No artist is. But, as Iris Murdoch says, “We would like to know what, as moral agents, we have got to do because of logic, what we have got to do because of human nature, and what we can choose to do.” Despite the rigorous logic of De Maria’s pieces, the most interesting aspect of his freely made choices is the way they demonstrate the strictures of “human nature,” its incorrigibleness. His transgressions are our guilty pleasures, perhaps our guilty necessities.

An imperialism of the self which subsumes and motivates a spatial and economic imperialism is a common charge levelled against De Maria. Yet, if De Maria leaves his mark for the ages, it is a mark which paradoxically dissolves itself, either perceptually or conceptually. “Las Vegas Piece” (1969) is a barely visible path in the desert. The “Lightning Field” (1977) is poles so thin and scattered as to have no mass and slight legibility. In “The Broken Kilometer” (1979), the glitter of the brass rods tends to efface the floor, making it a glowing mass without definable edges. De Maria insists on the interval, plots exactly the space between each bar, but their aura is like the shimmering net of consciousness – itself pinpoints of light on a darker continuum, preening a purely delusional seamlessness. Although the kilometer De Maria has in mind is a linear measure, he disports his rods to calculate an area, not a line, an area in itself interrupted, broken. On the way to the most famous American earthwork, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, travellers pass the Golden Spike Monument, so called in honor of the last spike, forged in gold, driven into the railroad line that united America’s East and West. De Maria’s

“The Broken Kilometer” is a railroad track of golden ties. Contradicting the golden spike, it commemorates the disruption of a link between two points, the dispersal of that chain. In the end, it is an immaterial kilometer, an idea, which he implants in the viewer’s mind, as he tries to do also with “The Vertical Earth Kilometer” in Kassel (1977). This “golden spike” revives the old fiction of reaching China by digging a hole through the center of the earth, a more global connection of East and West. De Maria tries to shove this shaft not so much into the earth as into the viewer’s mind, which cannot accomodate it, cannot really conceive of such depth without the aid of analogy (e.g., it’s five-hundred-fifty fully grown adults standing on each other’s shoulders). Since only the button-like top of the cylinder is visible, we are left with a vague sense of depth, “hidden depths” at that. Oddly, this intuition of depth would be weaker were we asked to imagine the kilometer without the rod. The fact that it abides makes its presence palpable, preventing our dismissal of the riddle as too difficult. De Maria shows that without objectification ideas lose their force. (…)

Excerpt from the catalogue text by Jeanne Silverthorne, 1988.