Walter De Maria - New York Earth Room, 1977
In this work, De Maria expresses the sublime through a exploration of materials by filling a gallery space with several tons of earth. His interest in materials is a reflection of an earlier artist, Carl Andre, who investigated the property of materials by removing any complexity in their presentation, often opting to arrange them in a Minimalist grid. Unlike Carl Andre, however, De Maria’s earth installation lacks any formal arrangement or shaping, other than the confines of the gallery walls. Instead, focus is given to the natural, raw quality of the earth through its massive quantity.
Carl Andre - Equivalent VIII, 1978
The artwork is an inverse of the artist’s earlier work, Lightning Field, where De Maria installed lightning rods in a natural environment to harness and draw attention to existing powers in the universe. Instead, De Maria brings the outer element into the realm of the gallery, juxtaposing the natural elements with a man-made setting, in the likes of Robert Smithson’s non-sites. Differing even from the non-sites however, Earth Room doesn’t reference a specific site of origin, but rather encompasses the notion of a universal substance through the installation of a vast amount of earth.
Walter De Maria - Lightning FIeld, 1977
Robert Smithson - Non Site, 1968
The presence of such a large amount of organic substance was palpable throughout the entire gallery. The installation was above ground level; viewers climbed upwards to reach De Maria’s work. This placement was deliberate on the part of the artist - in the journey made to reach the installation, the viewer could smell the rich, visceral soil, and sense the presence of an enormous weight through the floor of the gallery before any visual encounter occurred. The ascent upwards is symbolic, forcing the viewer to rise to a higher level in order to visually experience the installation. By engulfing the viewer in the perceptions of earth, both before and while viewing the work, De Maria forced the viewer to consider the nature of soil - the foundation for all living things.