Walter De Maria

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Walter De Maria
De Maria in 1968
Born(1935-10-01)October 1, 1935
Albany, California, US
DiedJuly 25, 2013(2013-07-25) (aged 77)
Los Angeles, California, US
Known forInstallation art, sculpture
MovementMinimalist, Land art
"Seen/Unseen Known/Unknown" at Benesse House, Naoshima, Kagawa prefecture, Japan

Walter Joseph De Maria[1] (October 1, 1935 – July 25, 2013)[2] was an American artist, sculptor, illustrator and composer, who lived and worked in New York City. Walter de Maria's artistic practice is connected with minimal art, conceptual art, and land art of the 1960s.

LACMA director Michael Govan said, "I think he's one of the greatest artists of our time." Govan, who worked with De Maria for a number of years, found De Maria's work "singular, sublime and direct".[2]

Life and career[edit]

De Maria was born in 1935 in Albany, California. His parents were the proprietors of a local restaurant in Albany and were socially very active, while their son was mostly concentrated on music.[3] Walter De Maria's first academic interest was music—first piano, then percussion. He also took to sports and cars, of which he made drawings.[1] By 1946 he had joined a musicians' union.[1]

De Maria studied history and art at the University of California, Berkeley from 1953 to 1959. Trained as a painter, he soon turned to sculpture and began using other media. In 1960, De Maria and his friends, the avant-garde composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley, participated in happenings and theatrical productions in the San Francisco area.[4] From his exposure to the work of La Monte Young and dancer Simone Forti, among others, De Maria developed an interest in task-oriented, game-like projects that resulted in viewer-interactive sculptures. For example, his Boxes for Meaningless Work (1961) is inscribed with the instructions, "Transfer things from one box to the next box back and forth, back and forth, etc. Be aware that what you are doing is meaningless."[5][6]

In 1960, De Maria moved to New York City where he married his wife Susanne Wilson (later Susanna) one year later.[7][8]

His early sculptures from the 1960s were influenced by Dada, suprematism and constructivism. This influence led De Maria into using simple geometric shapes and industrially manufactured materials such as stainless steel and aluminium – materials which are also characteristic of Minimal art. With the support of collector Robert C. Scull, De Maria started making pieces in metal in 1965.

Also in the mid-1960s, he became involved in various artistic activities. His piece, Cage, for John Cage, was included in the seminal 1966 Primary Structures exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York. He appeared in happenings, composed two musical works (Cricket Music, 1964; Ocean Music, 1968), and produced two films (Three Circles and Two Lines in the Desert; Hardcore, both 1969).

De Maria briefly ran a gallery on Great Jones Street in lower Manhattan with his wife Susanna, showing Joseph Cornell's collection of rare films, Robert Whitman's Happenings (he was then married to and created with dancer/artist Simone Forti), and exhibiting De Maria's Minimalist sculptures made of wood.[1]

In 1965 De Maria became the drummer in the New York-based rock group the Primitives and an artist/musician collaborative group called The Druds. The Primitives included Lou Reed and John Cale and was a precursor to The Velvet Underground.[9] In 1980, De Maria bought a four-story, 16,400-square-foot Con Edison substation at 421 East Sixth Street, and an adjacent lot at No. 419, between First Avenue and Avenue A.[10] In February 2014, this property was selling for $25 million.[11] Businessman and art collector Peter Brant purchased De Maria's studio for $27 million. Brant's plans for the space were unknown.[12]

De Maria went to California in May 2013 to celebrate his mother's 100th birthday and had a stroke there a few days later. He remained there for treatment.[1] He died in Los Angeles on July 25, 2013, at the age of 77. He was survived by his mother, Christine De Maria; his brother, Terry; four nieces; four nephews; and four grandnieces and two great-grandnieces.


From 1968 De Maria produced Minimalist sculptures and installations such as the Munich Erdraum of 1968. He realized Land art projects in the deserts of the south-west US, with the aim of creating situations where the landscape and nature, light and weather would become an intense, physical and psychic experience. In his work, De Maria stressed that the work of art is intended to make the viewer think about the earth and its relationship to the universe.

The Lightning Field (1977) is De Maria's best-known work. It consists of 400 stainless steel posts arranged in a calculated grid over an area of 1 mile × 1 km. The time of day and weather change the optical effects. It also lights up during thunder storms.[13][14] The field is commissioned and maintained by Dia Art Foundation. It has been speculated that The Lightning Field influenced the imagery of author Cormac McCarthy's epilogue in his 1985 novel, Blood Meridian.[15]

In the 1960s and 1970s, De Maria created enduring urban works. As complementary pieces, Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), and The Broken Kilometer (1979), address the idea of unseen or abstracted distance. Vertical Earth Kilometer is a one-kilometer-long brass rod, two inches in diameter, drilled into Friedrichsplatz Park in central Kassel, Germany. The rod's circular top, flush to the earth's surface, is framed by a two-meter square plate of red sandstone.[16] In 1979, De Maria meticulously arranged five hundred brass rods for The Broken Kilometer, a permanent installation at 393 West Broadway in New York.

In contrast to the hard metal of both Kilometer pieces, the third of these urban works, The New York Earth Room (1977), is a 3,600-square-foot room filled to a depth of 22 inches with 250 cubic yards of earth (the New York work is a permanent iteration of Munich Earth Room, 1968, a temporary installation in Munich). Also in 1977, the artist recreated the work at the Heiner Friedrich Gallery in New York, which was then permanently reinstalled in 1980 at 141 Wooster Street, New York.

The Broken Kilometer is also part of De Maria's series of monumental sculptures using a horizontal format, which feature groupings of elements ordered according to precise calculations. This series includes 360°/I-Ching (1981), A Computer Which Will Solve Every Problem in the World/3-12 Polygon (1984), 13, 14, 15 Meter Rows (1985), Apollo's Ecstasy (1990), and The 2000 Sculpture (1992).[citation needed]

In 1989 De Maria completed a sphere of polished granite for the Assemblée Nationale in Paris,[17] followed in 2000 and 2004 by works for two museums on Naoshima Island in Japan, the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum and the Chichu Art Museum. A comparable, 25-ton sculpture entitled Large Red Sphere (2002) was installed in the Türkentor, Munich, in 2010.[18]

One Sun/34 Moons (2002), conceived by the artist in collaboration with architect Steven Holl, was opened 2007 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. In 2010, The 2000 Sculpture (1992) was the first work of art to inaugurate the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[19]


De Maria and Robert Whitman opened the 9 Great Jones Street gallery in New York in 1963; the same year, De Maria's first solo show of sculpture was presented there. He had his first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery in 1965, at the Paula Johnson Gallery on New York's Upper East Side. (Its owner soon became better known with the Paula Cooper Gallery)[1]

De Maria avoided participating in museum shows when he could, preferring to create his installations outdoors or at unconventional urban locations.[20] His work was more widely shown outside the United States, and he had major exhibitions in Japan and Europe.[20]

In 1968 and 1977, De Maria participated in Documenta in Kassel; he installed his permanent public sculpture Vertical Earth Kilometer in the city's Friedrichsplatz Park. In 1977, a major exhibition of De Maria's sculpture was held at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1972. He has also since been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions organized by Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1981), Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1984), Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart (1987), Moderna Museet in Stockholm (1988), Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (1998), and Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima (2000 and 2004).[21] Organized by the Menil Collection in 2011, "Walter De Maria: Trilogies" was the artist's first major museum exhibition in the United States.[16]


In 2015, filmmaker and art historian James Crump produced and directed Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art.[22][23][24][25][26][27] Set in the desolate desert spaces of the American southwest, this feature documentary film contains rare footage of De Maria and the artist's extant and non-extant works. Troublemakers was one of twelve documentary films selected by the 53rd New York Film Festival, September 25–October 11, 2015.[28][29] The film released theatrically at IFC Center, New York, January 8, 2016.[30]


  • Kellein, Thomas (1987). Walter de Maria: 5 Kontinente Skulptur, mit Essays zum Werk des Künstlers (exhibition catalogue) (in German). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Stuttgart, Germany: Hatje. ISBN 978-3775702881.
  • Walter De Maria: Trilogies, edited by Josef Helfenstein and Clare Elliott. Houston: Menil Collection, 2011. ISBN 9780300175783
  • Jane McFadden, Walter De Maria: Meaningless Work. London: Reaktion Books, 2016. ISBN 9781780236674
  • Artists on Walter De Maria, edited by Katherine Atkins and Kelly Kivland. New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2017. ISBN 978-0-944521-84-7
  • Walter De Maria: The Lightning Field, edited by Stephen Hoban, Alexis Lowry, and Jessica Morgan, photographs by John Cliett. New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2017. ISBN 978-0-94452185-4
  • Interview with Paul Cummings, by Walter De Maria, edited by Cerise Fontaine. Paris: Éditions Lutanie, 2019. ISBN 978-2-918685-11-1


  1. ^ a b c d e f Roberta Smith (July 26, 2013), Walter De Maria, Artist on Grand Scale, Dies at 77 Archived May 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "Walter De Maria, celebrated sculptor, dies at 77". Los Angeles Times. 2013-07-26. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  3. ^ "Walter de Maria". Retrieved 2022-08-01.
  4. ^ "Homeowner-no-savings-some-options: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance". Archived from the original on 1 April 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  5. ^ Walter De Maria's Works at the Guggenheim Museum Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Guggenheim Collection.
  6. ^ Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings (Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by Kristine Stiles) University of California Press 2012, pp. 629-633
  7. ^ Tess Vigeland (March 23, 2011), A Homeowner With No Savings, but Some Options Archived July 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  8. ^ Oral history interview with Walter De Maria, 1972 Oct. 4 Archived August 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Archives of American Art.
  9. ^ Dave Thompson, Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (Backbeat Books, 2009), p. 5.
  10. ^ Robin Finn (January 31, 2014), Walter De Maria’s Grand and Gritty Home Archived February 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  11. ^ "The Approval Matrix". New York. Feb 17–24, 2014.
  12. ^ Nate Freeman (August 12, 2014), Peter Brant Purchases Walter De Maria's Massive Home Studio for Reasons that Remain to be Seen Archived December 26, 2016, at the Wayback Machine New York Observer.
  13. ^ Hurd, P (ed.) 2000, The Prestel Dictionary of Art and Artists in the 20th Century, Prestel Verlag, Munich.
  14. ^ Mccord, R. "The Lightning Field. Santa Fe Always Online.
  15. ^ Campbell, Christopher D. (Spring 2002). "Walter De Maria's Lightning Field and McCarthy's Enigmatic Epilogue: 'Y que clase de lugar es este?'" (PDF). The Cormac McCarthy Journal. JSTOR 42909345. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  16. ^ a b Walter De Maria: Trilogies, September 16, 2011– January 8, 2012 Archived October 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Menil Collection, Houston.
  17. ^ Le Guide de la visite du Palais Bourbon et de l'Hôtel de Lassay: La Cour d'Honneur Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Assemblée Nationale.
  18. ^ Walter De Maria at Türkentor Archived February 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich.
  19. ^ ""Testing" the Resnick Pavilion—with Walter De Maria's Help « Unframed The LACMA Blog". 2010-06-08. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  20. ^ a b David Ng (July 26, 2013), Walter De Maria, celebrated sculptor, dies at 77 Archived April 3, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ Biography: Walter de Maria Archived April 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Guggenheim Collection
  22. ^ Su Wu, A New Documentary Sheds Light on the 'Troublemakers' of Land Art, T Magazine, May 4, 2015 Archived November 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Christopher Bollen, LandArt, Interview Magazine, August 2015 Archived August 26, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ IMDb, Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art, 2015 Archived July 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Laura Hoffmann, James Crump Discusses Troublemakers The Story of Land Art, Artforum Archived August 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, September 2, 2015
  26. ^ Andy Battaglia, Land Art Gets Its Close-Up In New Film, Wall Street Journal Archived April 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine September 27, 2015
  27. ^ Eric Gibson, Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art Review, Wall Street Journal Archived December 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine October 5, 2015
  28. ^ Spotlight on Documentary at the 53rd New York Film Festival Archived May 29, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Gregg Kilday, Laura Poitras, Frederick Wiseman to Screen New Work at New York Film Festival, Hollywood Reporter, August 24, 2015 Archived January 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ First Run Features, Troublemakers Opens January 8 in NY Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine

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