Based on his oeuvre one would say that Walter De Maria is an artist fascinated by mathematical precision and order. His work at Gagosian Gallery in New York City or The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in the United States or even the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Japan exemplify this focus on the predictable progression of sunlight as it relates to planetary rotation and the perfection of spheres.
Which is one of the reasons that his 1977 Land Art Installation The Lightning Field in Western New Mexico is so fascinating to me. The piece is
comprised of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer. The poles — two inches in diameter and averaging 20 feet and 7½ inches in height — are spaced 220 feet apart and have solid pointed tips that define a horizontal plane. A sculpture to be walked in as well as viewed, The Lightning Field is intended to be experienced over an extended period of time.
Despite the work’s static nature…made up of structural forms clearly positioned in specific space, the element of time and its passage is an important one. Sunrise and sunset create an ever changing spectrum of light and color. And electrical charges, an example of “nature’s chaos” if there ever was one, provide visitors lucky enough to be there with an awe inspiring experience.
That dichotomy of precision and chaos is part of what makes the piece so meaningful, the fact that De Maria has prepared the stage, like a carefully placed grid of dominoes, and then invites us to marvel at what unfolds.