October 06, 2010

A Visit to "The New York Earth Room"

I know, I've been remiss in my blogging these past few weeks, but I'm going to make it up to my loyal readers with this one! In the "..and now for something completely different" category, I'll be taking you on a visit to one of the oldest continuous art installations I know of, Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room".

In 1977, under the auspices of the Dia Art Foundation, the American Conceptual artist Walter De Maria filled a room knee-high with 250 cubic yards of earth. That's right, earth. Dirt to some, but that depends on how you look at it. It was actually De Maria's third Earth Room sculpture, the first being in Munich and the second in Darmstadt, but is the only one still extant. Actually more than just extant, thriving.

Situated on the second floor of a building on Wooster Street in New York's bustling Soho neighborhood, "The New York Earth Room" has been open to the public from 12-6 (with a break between 3-3:30) on Wednesdays through Sundays, for over 30 years. There is no admission charge, no photography allowed and and one cannot actually enter the room. It is not advertised yet a steady stream of visitors, about 70 a day, come to experience the quiet, the steadiness and the calm of this remarkable installation.

This is the brainchild of Walter De Maria, a native of California who has made New York his home since 1960. Despite a brief stint as a drummer in a rock band, Mr De Maria has dedicated his career to producing Minimalist and Conceptual sculptures and installations around the world. His most famous work is probably "The Lightening Field", 1977, installed in Western New Mexico and consisting of 400 stainless steel posts arranged in a grid over an area of one mile by one kilometer. Playing off the weather, time of day and other environmental changes, the posts reflect light, or lack thereof, to tremendous, ever-changing, visual effect.

But here in New York we are not as outdoor-oriented and Mr De Maria's approach to "The New York Earth Room" focus' on a limited interior space where the surroundings can be controlled. The result is a never changing (that in itself remarkable in this face-paced city) refuge that speaks to the visitor in different ways with each encounter.

Even the guardian of "The New York Earth Room" has remained constant! For the past 21 years, the space has been maintained by Bill Dillworth, an aspiring artist who took the job for a steady paycheck. He admits to having wondered at the time if he would become bored with the limited tasks involved in taking care of a room full of earth, but found that the concept and the place cast a spell over him and his weekly watering and raking have became almost a ritual ceremony.

So if you're looking for a quiet spot in the middle of the downtown frenzy, walk on over to 114 Wooster Street, go up the stairs, say hello to Bill and enter the magic of Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room".

P.S. This Saturday I'll be taking off for Paris. I hope you'll check back soon to see what I've discovered this fall season in the City of Lights!

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