Walter De Maria was an American land art artist born on October 1, 1935 in Albany, California and died on July 25, 2013 in New York City.
In 1957 he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his M.F.A. in painting two years later. With his friend, the avant-garde composer La Monte Young, he participated in happenings and theatrical productions in the San Francisco area.
In 1960 he moved to New York where he wrote essays on art, which were published by La Monte Young and Jackson McLow in An Anthology of Chance Operations. He continued to take part in happenings. In 1961 he made his first wooden box sculptures. In 1963, De Maria and Robert Whitman opened the 9 Great Jones Street Gallery in New York. That same year De Maria”s first solo exhibition of sculpture was held there. That same year he worked with the drummer of the iconic rock band of the time, The Velvet Underground, then led by Lou Reed. He continued with woodcarving, began his “invisible drawings” (literally “drawings
The most famous works in metal (aluminum) are the following:
These works were conceived separately but are now reunited at the Guggenheim Museum. The idea of these works was to divert the three symbols from their original meaning. By simply exhibiting them in a museum, he reduced them to simple visual works without any other connotation. There was obviously a lot of provocation in this.
In 1968, De Maria established himself as one of the major figures of Land Art by filling the floor of the Heiner Friedrich Gallery in Munich with earth. In the same year he conceived Mile Long Drawing in the Mojave Desert, a work that echoed Walls in the Desert, an unrealized project drawn between 1961 and 1963, which consisted of the construction of two parallel walls one mile long each in the Sahara Desert. In 1972, the artist was the subject of a major exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Basel.
Throughout the 1970s, he continued to study or create works that were increasingly on the scale of the great landscape, or even the planet, as evidenced by his Three Continent Project, a sculpture begun in 1969 that was to take the form of a gigantic cross straddling India, Africa, and the United States.
1969 was also the year that De Maria began work on his famous The Lightning Field. This work was finally completed in 1977 in Quemado, New Mexico, and is by far the best known and most widely distributed of Walter De Maria”s works. It is a perennial installation of 400 stainless steel poles, evenly distributed over a rectangular area of one kilometer by one mile located in a desert plain, where the visitor is forced to stay 24 hours in order to experience the site. The work was located near the Log Cabin, a log cabin built in the 1930s to accommodate a group of 6 people and in which the bare minimum of life is contained, as well as an accurate description of the construction of the work. According to the artist, the area is prone to thunderstorms, as evidenced by the spectacular photographs he had taken there. In fact, according to a recent statement by Gilles Tiberghien, few people have ever seen lightning strike these rods. The Lightning Field is managed by the DIA Art Foundation in New York, the only institution authorized to issue tickets.
In the 1960s and 1970s, De Maria created urban works including The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), The New York Earth Room (1977) and The Broken Kilometer (1979).
In 1989, De Maria won an international call for projects to create a sculpture in the main courtyard of the Palais Bourbon, commissioned for the bicentennial of the French Revolution. This work is composed of several parts: a ball of solid grey granite from Brittany placed on a pedestal in classical limestone, on which are inscribed the dates 1789 and 1989 and inside which is placed a golden heart the size of a hand; a lawn of circular shape staging this device; and a reading table in limestone, installed in a semicircle around the parterre, on which were fixed eleven rectangular bronze plates taking up the preamble of the Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2001, Walter De Maria was the first recipient of the Haftmann Prize, awarded by the Roswitha Haftmann Foundation, a Swiss foundation, to a “living artist who has produced work of primary importance.”