The Washington Post‘s Blake Gopnik made the pilgrimage to New Mexico to see the Dia Foundation’s intallation of Walter de Maria’s seminal work of land art, Lightning Field. It turns out the foundation plays host to six guests at a time on the high mesa in New Mexico. They drop you off, after an hour long trip in four-wheel-drive truck (it takes another three hours to get to the town from Santa Fe), at a cabin where you can spend the night and wait for the magic of meteorology to happen. Blake Gopnik went–and saw an electrical storm–but that’s not what impressed him the most.
There’s no doubt the piece looks great by storm light, when it’s likely to give as many goose bumps as “Las Meninas” or the Sistine ceiling. But the best thing about “Lightning Field” is that it seems to work at least as well, or better, by any other kind of light, at almost any moment that you come across it.
There is no single “Lightning Field” — that name’s the one false note in the whole piece. Every time you look at it, this work feels new, and acquires meanings that you hadn’t thought of earlier. Its central virtue may be that, unlike almost any other artwork you could name, it doesn’t have a single central virtue. […]
Thought 1: The long trip was necessary to the meaning of this art. One way or another, de Maria’s piece is clearly about the West, so it’s only right that there should be some kind of trek to get you to your destination. That’s why the log cabin also feels so right. If you stand in the no man’s land between the cabin and the field of rods, you can go from looking “back” at the homestead and the region’s past, and “forward” to de Maria’s version of its future. […]
Thought 4: Who said modern art killed classic beauty? The sun starts setting in the mountains, God’s clouds and de Maria’s rods are lit deep-pink and the Romantic Sublime takes over. Turner, eat your heart out.
Thought 5: Art doesn’t get more minimal and rigorous than this. With the sun behind a cloud, the rods become a never-ending grid of identical gray lines. For a moment, aesthetics disappear and there’s no room for arty histrionics. All that matters is the statement of a concept: a ground plane. A line rising from it. A space. Another line. Repeat.
Thoughts 6 through 99, and on: With its endlessly receding avenues of rods, “Lightning Field” is the latest riff on classic Renaissance perspective (try Googling “isocephaly”). Or, this is art that sets itself apart from anything that’s ever been made.
Shock and Awe: Mysterious Art in New Mexico (Washington Post)