Lightning Field

In 1977. in backcountry New Mexico, Walter de Maria created a horizontal plane of 400 evenly spaced points, held aloft on stainless steel poles averaging over 22 feet high. At sunset and sunrise the gleaming metal is lit in a grand breathtaking sweep. It is considered one of the most important pieces of Twentieth Century art. The site is surrounded by distant mesas and otherwise featureless except for a small cabin.

De Maria, I would say, envisioned how the earth and the sky would interact with the work. I would venture that he didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how other people would engage the piece, except perhaps the people who installed it for him.

The site is owned and maintained by New York's Dia Center for the Arts So it's up to them. The choices are to A) Leave it alone and unprotected to the ravages of time, accessible to anyone who goes looking for it, or B) Open an office in the nearest town and hire caretakers to shuttle people back and forth and prepare vegetarian dinners and keep the gates locked.

Currently, in order to visit you have to make reservations to stay in the cabin.. They charge you $110 per person for an overnight visit. They fix you that vegetarian dinner and leave some breakfast stuff for you. You share the cabin with up to five other people. You are left alone except for a shortwave radio in case of emergency. They say it costs them $300 per person to host you, so they're being very generous.

I wonder how they settled on option B. Maybe it has to do with controlling the copyright on photographs of it? (No photos are allowed -- of the piece OR the cabin. Sets of 8 slides can be purchased for $30 for non-commercial use.)

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