Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1977
The list of art works I really want to see is quite a long one, but somewhere towards the top – and part of an as yet imaginary art holiday that includes other pieces of American land art – is Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field. In the middle of nowhere, about three hours drive from Albuquerque, The Lightning Field is, um, basically a field. With, if you’re very lucky (and most who visit it won’t be), some lightning.
The work is a series of polished stainless steel poles – 400 of them, on average roughly 20 feet tall – placed 220 feet apart. The work is designed to be experienced over a 24 hour period so visitors stay in a small wooden cabin at the centre and are able to wander through the installation as the light changes.
Though I really like the idea of being there in the middle of a crazy electric storm, I’d happily settle for ambling through the installation and enjoying the way the posts become more, or less, visible at different times of the day.
And of course there’s the scale of the thing. Even the art is bigger in America. (See also: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which would also feature on the itinerary of the land art trip I will probably never get round to making.)
How ever much I know The Lightning Field isn’t really changing the weather, I think I sort of believe it is. For my money (and it costs quite a lot to visit, even if you happen to be in New Mexico) that makes it art with real ambition.
The Lightning Field is maintained by the Dia Art Foundation who all in all look after quite a lot of pretty great art.
I’ve been pondering the proscription against photography at this site. It hurts my brain to think that I couldn’t photograph what I saw. I think I would bring paint and canvas. This fact is making me think more than what little glimpses I’ve had of the art through the small number of sanctioned photos. Maybe the relationship between the artist and the art object is what this art is really about?
Yes, I so want to visit this but the idea of not photographing it troubles me. I’d like to think it could be liberating, as leaving a camera behind can sometimes be, but in reality I think it would just stress me out.
I suspect in practice visitors do photograph it though.