but is it art?

walter de maria.  i didn’t remember the name, and i didn’t remember he was responsible for both works of art, but i do remember his art.  i imagine that might be enough for him.

i was 18.  i was in college, more or less:  more than i wanted to be, and less than i was required to be to actually earn a degree.  i didn’t finish, because i didn’t know what i wanted to be when i grew up.  if i grew up.  (that’s what i told everyone. but that’s not true.  i knew what i wanted to be, but was told it wasn’t practical.  who can make a living at training horses?  i could have.)

i managed to be accepted into the honors program at my little school. i remember the interview… that’s not true… i remember thinking i hadn’t a chance in hell in getting into the program, so there was no pressure, and apparently i appear intelligent when i just don’t give a crap because i knew they were going to reject me anyway.  but they didn’t.  i’m so glad they didn’t, even if i didn’t finish, even if i couldn’t be what i wanted to be.  they showed me things.  they took me places.

2 of these places were in soho, new york city.  both of them were unlike anything i’d ever seen nor imagined.

earth room.  it is just that, a room full of earth.  the blackest, richest dirt you can imagine, with an aroma that i remember hitting me in the face as soon as the street level door was opened, before even climbing the stairs to the second floor loft.  it was the cleanest dirty smell i’d ever experienced.  it was pure.  it was… well… earthy.

against the white walls of the loft, the dirt is piled almost 2 foot high; it’s level and looks ready for planting. but there are no plants (any growth is removed by the caretaker).  just black earth, white walls, natural light from windows and some overhead electric lighting.  and a hush.  a heavy silence.   it’s a quiet room. a monument to the earth that has been covered, smothered, by the concrete and steel that composes the city, any city.  a memorial.

earth room, by walter de maria

broken kilometer.  a series of 500 brass rods, each 2 meters long, laid on the floor in 5 perfect parallel rows of 100 rods each.  the first 2 rods are place 80mm apart, the last 580mm apart, to give the appearance of uniform spacing across the entire floor from the vantage point of the viewer to the back of the room, 125 feet away, so that you could see each rod.  you could count them.  i didn’t, though.  i took them at their word.

broken kilometer, by walter de maria

a critic of the arts might ask “why?”  why waste the time, the money to maintain such art, which can’t be moved, that can only be experienced in real life (these pictures don’t do justice to the experience), in one location?

why not?  why not make an impression on another human?  a human who will never forget these things, even though she forgets most things.  a human who has remembered them for 32 years and counting.

(both installations have been commissioned and are maintained by the dia art foundation, and are still there in soho.  i’d like to see them again someday.)