Art Pilgrimage: Walter de Maria, The Lightening Field, 1977

The Lightning Field, Walter de Maria (1977)
 Photo courtesy of Dia Art Foundation
The Lightning Field, Walter de Maria (1977)
 Photo courtesy of Dia Art Foundation

The Lightning Field by Walter de Maria in Catron Country, Western New Mexico
, USA.

It’s remote location, a days drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico, marks this work as one of the art world’s more substantial pilgrimages. This major work of Land Art is maintained and administered by the Dia Foundation. Visitors are able to experience the work from May through October with an overnight stay in a historic log cabin on the site. Bookings can be made through the Dia Foundation website.

The Historic Cabin at The Lightening Field

The cabin has three rooms so can accommodate a group of six, or you will be joined by other like minded pilgrims.  Each visit begins with an afternoon drop-off at the site. You remain totally isolated at the site overnight until staff arrive to collect you late the next morning. Visitors are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the field, especially during dusk and dawn. The appearance of the work undergoes significant changes over the time period due to the variation in light and atmospheric conditions.

The appearance of the poles changes significantly through the 20 hour visit.

The Lightning Field consists of 400 stainless steel poles placed in the form of a grid over an area of one mile by one kilometre. The poles are several times higher than an average person, and the tops end up on a level plane parallel to the ground regardless of the terrain the pole was erected in. Despite the fact that the title and composition of the work suggest that it is meant to be conducive to lightning, lightning actually strikes rather infrequently and is by no means necessary for full enjoyment of the experience.

Benefactors Paul Savory and Laura Young enjoying a Mexican meal inside the cabin.


The Dia Foundation Museum at Corrales, New Mexico.
The Dia Foundation Museum at Corrales, New Mexico.

I find the land art genre particularly interesting in the context of the significant effort that must be made on the part of the viewer in order to experience the art work in the first place.  The artwork must be fully participated in in a way that viewing a canvas or sculpture does not require.  Even video and time based art, which it could be argued demand commitment from the viewer, do not come close to the encompassing nature of land art. You go into it, you exist within it, and long after you have left its physical space, it maintains a physical presence in memory, such that it’s recollection is more than visual, but somehow visceral.


Charlotte Swasbrook

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