Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field”

Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field” is a site specific work that speaks to the accessibility of art as well as the idea that anything can be art. By planting 400 steel rods into the earth in a field in New Mexico, de Maria created a piece of art that he had no control over. Once the rods were planted, the rest was left up to nature, for the rods to attract lightning, and for lightning to strike. The fact that only 6 people at a time can witness the field light up (although a lightning spectacle can not be guaranteed) relates to the the idea of accessibility as well as who the viewer is in terms of art.

Walter de Maria built this field in order to attempt to capture a natural occurrence and make it more likely to happen, and this approach is similar in terms of preserving aspects of nature as art, as well as the idea of fleeting art. The lightning strikes and is then gone, just as Kaprow’s “happenings” were in the moment, often not documented, and not meant to be redone the same exact way. “Lightning Field” is also similar to the Becher’s work in photographing decomposing houses that would soon be ruins. The Bechers preserved a natural occurrence through photography, which is the only way de Maria’s work can be preserved as well. The idea of entropy, fleeting energy, and fleeting art directly relates to de Maria’s piece in the most literal sense that the lightning cannot be controlled and cannot be contained; it’s there for a moment and one doesn’t know when it may appear again. De Maria questions the expectation of art through this piece and allows for art to not always be something one knows is there and can always go see hanging on a wall in a gallery. De Maria created a man made structure, and left the rest of the art-making process to nature.

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