From Los Angeles: The 2000 SculptureJanuary 14, 2013
Artist Walter De Maria is perhaps best known for his seminal land art piece The Lightning Field (1977). However, since the early 1960s he has been an important contributor to minimalist, conceptual, and land art movements, steadily making gallery-filling minimalist sculpture alongside his monumental Earthworks. It is into this category of work that The 2000 Sculpture (1992) falls. Originally exhibited in Zurich, the sculpture currently occupies Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). This exhibition marks the first time the work has been seen publicly in the United States and is, surprisingly, only De Maria’s second solo museum exhibition in the States.
It is challenging to satisfactorily describe The 2000 Sculpture with written words. De Maria has posted the piece’s physical characteristics on the wall, highlighting the challenge of verbally and numerically expressing the experience of viewing and moving around the work. The 2000 Sculpture is composed of two thousand polygonal white plaster rods arranged on their sides on the ground. They are placed in rows forming a herringbone pattern of twenty by one hundred units. There are eight hundred five-sided rods, eight hundred seven-sided rods, and four hundred nine-sided rods arranged in a pattern of five-seven-nine-seven-five and five-seven-nine-seven-five. Each rod is fifty centimeters long and approximately twelve centimeters high and weighs twelve pounds. The overall length of the piece is fifty meters (the total length of all the rods laid end to end would be one kilometer), and the total weight is twelve tons. These are the concrete facts of the piece, and yet they give little impression of the sensation of standing before it.
One can see the origination of this theme in The Lightning Field, the archetype of De Maria’s interventions in the landscape. Here, he overlaid a precise grid of four hundred steel poles measuring one kilometer by one mile onto a remote section of the New Mexico wilderness. Though it is equally difficult to convey through word or image, De Maria wrote a descriptive list of facts about it in 1980. The title itself is a bit of a misnomer—lightning strikes are not the work’s sole purpose, as the lightening season is estimated to be only sixty days per year.1 Visitors wander in and around the field, ideally over a period of twenty-four hours, experiencing the changes in light and land. Integrated into the landscape, the poles enhance this awareness. De Maria notes in his accompanying text that the “light is as important as the lightning” and that the “land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.”2
Like The Lightning Field, The 2000 Sculpture employs serial repetition of geometric forms, but it does so to different
effect. Whereas De Maria’s Earthworks can be entered into and occupied, The 2000 Sculpture is cordoned off, a boundary that delineates a clear viewer-subject relationship. The sculpture takes up almost the entire floor of the Resnick Pavilion so that viewers must observe it from the narrow border surrounding it. Placed indoors, under bright and unyielding lights, The 2000 Sculpture does not connect with the greater landscape but draws the viewer into its confounding interior composition. This hermeticism heightens the experience of perception. As a viewer moves around the work, their attention vacillates between the individual units and the work as a whole; orderly rows of chevrons travel back along perspective lines to a vanishing point. But seen from another angle, the rods appear as interlocking crosses. When viewed from a crouched position, the overarching structure dissipates into a field of parallelograms of varying brightness and width: slices of light made solid. Much as in The Lightning Field, these rods formed from simple geometric shapes create an endlessly fascinating series of possibilities.
The 2000 Sculpture reveals just how De Maria has adapted elements of Conceptual Art. In both The Lightning Field and The 2000 Sculpture, form is governed by a predetermined set of measurements, from each rod’s dimensions and weight to its number of sides, the distance between them, and the piece’s overall dimensions. The use of standard measurements that anyone could easily comprehend—five, seven, nine sides; two thousand units; one kilometer—removes any sense of authorship.
In fact, the single kilometer is a common refrain in De Maria’s work: it is present in The Lightning Field, Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), and The Broken Kilometer (1979). For Vertical Earth Kilometer, De Maria inserted a brass rod, one kilometer long, vertically into the ground at Friedrichsplatz Park in central Kassel, Germany. The companion piece, The Broken Kilometer, consists of five hundred brass rods arranged in rows on the floor, similar to the layout of The 2000 Sculpture: the total length of the rods laid end to end would be one kilometer. It is a unit that is easily understood as monumental when considering man-made objects, but it is minimal when compared to the enormity of the greater landscape.
De Maria’s use of simple but precise measurements to set the parameters of his work differs considerably from the ways in which other pioneers of Conceptual Art use them. As defined by Sol LeWitt, Conceptual Art is first and foremost an art of ideas.3 For De Maria, the physical experience is tantamount to all else: “The sum of the facts does not constitute the work or determine its esthetics,” he writes in reference to The Lightning Field.4 His list of figures and dimensions represents a futile attempt to quantify the sublime. Whether in The Lightning Field, where the introduction of a logical, man-made system mediates our relationship to the changing landscape, or in The 2000 Sculpture, where a calculated arrangement of geometric forms creates an endless variety of visual and spatial permutations, De Maria’s dispassionate, industrial aesthetic situates a viewer and their experience at the center of the work.