Walter De Maria at Gagosian

Yes, I mean that Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, Walter De Maria. Growing up with a father who liked to machine things, I feel warmly toward a room filled with 42 solid stainless steel polygonal rods (each rod 3.5 inches in diameter and 1 meter long). Far more beautiful than anything my father could have manufactured, and shown in a space cleaner than any working man could feel very comfortable, De Maria’s “13, 14, 15 Meter Rows” (1985), nonetheless feels strangely utilitarian. Of course it isn’t. And that isn’t the point.

Walking in to the Gagosian is always a pleasure–whether one is confronted with the swelling minimalist masses of a Richard Serra, or the Gulliver sized pharmaceuticals of Damien Hirst, there is something opulent about the high ceilings and the shiny concrete floor–the industrial past polished to futuristic perfection. It is a space built to appreciate work–sculpture–and sculpture that is, well, in De Maria’s case certainly, an homage to craft and space as much as to the material itself. Such precision, such perfection–such material! Here the steel seems to have come into its own, to fulfill its promise. We forget how transformed the 20th century was by its appearance, and perhaps that is because we have not made enough of it in our daily lives, certainly not for its beauty.

While the 21st street gallery is apparently lit up with lighting designed to play with the materiality of the sculpture “A Computer Which Will Solve Every Problem in the
World /3-12 Polygonthe” (1984), the 24th street gallery (one of my favorite Chelsea stops), relies on natural light, and therefore changes given the time of day, and quality of light. When the above picture was taken it was a cloudy day, for example. De Maria clearly loves to take elements out of nature, restructure and replace them–then watch them interact. Having only viewed one half of the show I feel unable to make any final comments other than it is a sharp reminder of minimalism’s ability to make a moment reverberate like a long, deep note.

One wonders what a poem would be like given such treatment. (Is there a way to create 42 such sterling lines? How would these lines be presented?) New Mexico poet Carol Moldaw did publish a book that responds directly to, and in fact shares the title of De Maria’s project, and it does in some way, replicate the structure. Not in as strict a compositional sense as one might expect (and one can also imagine syllabic constraints that would mirror the machine like quality of the rods, the precision of spacial orientation) but there is a field-like shape to the poems, and they loop back thematically and visually, along with the installation.

Space. To take up that much space, and have it seem so natural. What must that feel like for an artist?

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