Walter De Maria

Long term-view, Dia Beacon

Overview

In 1965 Walter De Maria started favoring polished metal as the material for his sculptures, often deploying standard systems of measurements as compositional principles. Observed over time, the reflective surface of polished metal functions as what the artist described in 1972 as “pure light.” De Maria’s abiding interest in extensive experience, quantification and mediation, invisibility, and underlying structure is most evident in the two works on display in this gallery—the smallest and a larger pair from The Equal Area Series (1976–77). In its entirety, The Equal Area Series features twenty-five pairs of stainless-steel circles and squares placed directly on the ground. As the title implies, each circle in a pair defines an area of the same size as its corresponding square. While the precise mathematics of the work is unavailable to even the most observant eye, the exploration of the limits of perception are integral to most of De Maria’s sculptures.

Dia Beacon Interactive Floor Plan

In 1965 Walter De Maria started favoring polished metal as the material for his sculptures, often deploying standard systems of measurements as compositional principles. Observed over time, the reflective surface of polished metal functions as “pure light,” the artist noted in 1972, at once asserting and denying the materiality of his elementarystructures. In addition, working in concert with specialists in metal shops allowed him to work directly off a “pure idea,” make preparatory sketches, and wait for the work to “magically appear.” De Maria’s abiding interest in extensive experience, quantification and mediation, invisibility, and underlying structure is most evident in the two works on display in this gallery—the smallest and a larger pair from The Equal Area Series (1976–77).

In its entirety, The Equal Area Series features twenty-five pairs of stainless-steel circles and squares placed directly on the ground. As the title implies, each circle in a pair defines an area of the same size as its corresponding square. The smallest pair in the series, on view here, is made up of a square measuring 6 feet wide and a circle measuring 6 feet 8 inches in diameter; the area inscribed by each is almost exactly the same—3,844 and 3,848 square inches respectively. The squares increase incrementally by the same measure—one inch—for each subsequent pair in the series.

The first thirteen pairs, their squares running from six to seven feet wide inclusively, were made from 1976 to 1977 and first exhibited at a temporary rented storefront on Waverly Place in New York City from October 1977 to January 1978. The following twelve pairs were fabricated in two phases—pairs fourteen through nineteen were made in 1983 and pairs twenty through twenty-five in 1990. When installed together, the perfection of the highly polished stainless-steel plates and the subtly increasing size of the pairs invite the eye to focus equally on the individual sculptures and on the vastness of the overall installation. The circles and squares increase in scale against the force of diminishing perspective.

While the precise mathematics of The Equal Area Series is unavailable to even the most observant eye, the exploration of the limits of perception are integral to most of De Maria’s sculptures. The tension between apprehension and comprehension offers a rubric for understanding the artist’s practice. By withholding an explicit reference to its mathematical underpinning, The Equal Area Series may allude to some unknown universal order, since the specific facts may only be grasped obliquely in the act of viewing.

1–2. The Equal Area Series, 1976–77
Stainless steel
Dia Art Foundation

Walter De Maria was born in 1935 in Albany, California; he moved in 1960 to New York City, where he lived and worked until his death in 2013. De Maria founded a gallery with Robert Whitman in 1963 at 9 Great Jones Street, where he exhibited small-scale, interactive sculptures later that year. After his first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery in 1965, De Maria’s work was included in early surveys of Minimal art, including the 1966 Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum, New York. De Maria began making large-scale, site-specific Land art in the American West in 1968. His works Mile Long Drawing (1968) and The Lightning Field (1977) exemplify a career-long exploration of the relationship between art and the natural environment as well as an interest in geometry, mathematics, and principles of measurement. De Maria’s work has been featured in numerous international shows at venues including the Kunsthaus Zürich (1999), Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt (1991), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (1987), and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1984). Dia maintains De Maria’s The Lightning Field in western New Mexico, The New York Earth Room (1977) and The Broken Kilometer (1979) in New York, and The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977) in Kassel, Germany.

Artist

Walter De Maria

Walter De Maria was born in Albany, California, in 1935. He died in Los Angeles in 2013.

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