Artists Obituaries News USA

Land artist Walter De Maria dies of stroke, aged 77

The “uncompromising” creator of The Lightning Field and The New York Earth Room shied away from the spotlight

Walter de Maria

The artist Walter De Maria, best known for his land art work The Lightning Field, 1977, made of 400 steel poles embedded in a grid in the desert of western New Mexico, died of a stroke on Thursday, aged 77.

The minimalist artist worked closely with the Dia Art Foundation, which commissioned and maintains The Lightning Field, along with two pieces in Manhattan, The Broken Kilometer, 1979, and The New York Earth Room, 1977. In a statement, the foundation says De Maria “was an integral part of Dia since the beginning and he truly embodied Dia’s spirit and commitment to creating time and space for art with no compromise.”

De Maria rarely made public appearances or gave interviews, preferring instead to collaborate with institutions behind the scenes on long-term exhibitions and permanent installations. “He never really talked about his art because he didn’t want to impose an interpretation,” says Philippe Vergne, Dia’s director. “He was invested in art at the most uncompromising level, with a rigor that kept him away from much of the noise of the art world right now.” Vergne recalled receiving a phone call from De Maria as soon as he took over Dia in 2008. “He wanted to meet. He took me to a restaurant in Tribeca called Chanterelle—not because the food was marvellous but because the building used to be a Dia building. He wanted me to understand the history of Dia. He told me only after we were done with lunch.”

The Menil Collection in Houston presented De Maria’s first major museum exhibition in the United States, “Walter De Maria: Trilogies”, in 2011. De Maria’s installation Apollo’s Ecstasy, 1990, comprising 20 bronze rods assembled in a line on the ground, is currently on view in the exhibition “The Encyclopaedic Palace” at the 55th Venice Biennale.

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12 Aug 13
15:53 CET


I just want to say that Walter was my uncle. My maiden name is DeMaria and I am the eldest child of his brother Terry. I had become estranged from my father when my mother and he became divorced and over the last couple of years I had tried to get in to connect with my Uncle Walter. I was upset to hear the news of his passing before I was able to reconnect with him. He was an amazing man who was genuinely interested in anything people had to say including me as a child. He found hula hoops incredible and the little things in life to be the most amazing. He did what he did for the love of the art and never for the notoriety. He once took me for pizza in Little Italy and I wish I could remember where it was. His loft was as his art, minimal, understated and amazing. I will regret the missed years and the fact that my New York connection and love for the city was inspired by his perspective of what life was about and the joy in the little things that go overlooked.

29 Jul 13
15:31 CET


May he rest in peace.

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