Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field touches on concepts that coincide with Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty: entropy, impermanence, accessibility, the changing notion of sculpture, and the relationship between man and nature. At the same time, the seriality and grid-like structure of the steel poles is reminiscent of works by Donald Judd, a minimalist sculptor who often allowed the materials to speak for themselves. Lightning Field’s ability to permeate these different art forms speaks to its dynamic nature: left to the whims of nature, yet also firmly entrenched into the Earth.
Perhaps what struck me most about this work was the possibility that one could venture to western New Mexico (a presumably expensive, timely endeavor) with no guarantee of seeing lightning strike the Lightning Field. Is this work dependent on nature’s “choices?” Or is the prospect of witnessing lightning and one’s mere presence on the field enough to justify venturing there? Although difficult to answer, these questions touch upon how contingent art is on one’s experience with it.