Walter De Maria's Las Vegas Piece

Here's Walter De Maria describing his early land art work, Las Vegas Piece, to Paul Cummings in 1972. According to the Center For Land Use Interpretation, the piece is off Carp/Elgin Road in the Tula Desert, one exit north of Double Negative's Overton exit on I-15. The work is now "apparently" lost:

it takes you about 2 or 3 hours to drive out to the valley and there is nothing in this valley except a cattle corral somewhere in the back of the valley. Then it takes you 20 minutes to walk off the road to get to the sculpture, so some people have missed it, have lost it. Then, when you hit this sculpture which is a mile long line cut with a bulldozer, at that point you have a choice of walking either east or west. If you walk east you hit a dead end; if you walk west you hit another road, at another point, you hit another line and you actually have a choice. At that point you decide which way to go and so forth, then you continue, you walk another mile and at another point you walk another half mile so and at a certain point you have to double back. After spending about four hours, you have walked through all of the three miles of the thing and you would have gotten your orientation because the sun will also be setting in the west and this is lined up so that all the lines are either east-west or north-south. Now I did this piece in 1969 and I haven't done an article on it because I didn't find a way to photograph it properly. You can only photograph in multiple views, you know, like this is looking east and this is looking . . . .

PC: A satellite shot.

WDM: Well, that's true, but that's a different experience because that's an experience like a drawing but this is an experience at ground level, it's a different experience.

PC: How wide are the lines?

WDM: Ten feet wide, eight or ten feet wide.

PC: And they are how deep?

WDM: Oh, it's about a foot deep, two feet deep and about eight feet wide. The point I'm making here is that the most beautiful thing is to experience a work of art over a period of time. For instance, architecture we know has always thought about this. You go into the palace, you go into the house, you experience the different floors, you sit in certain rooms for certain amounts of time and when, after an hour or half hour or four or five hours you walk out again. You've experienced all of the proportion and relationships; you've experienced something over a period of time. Well, most sculptures have always been confined to being a single object, no mater what the style of configuration -- expressionist or figurative, whatever.

PC: You look at it from this point and that point.

WDM: You look at it and maybe walk around it and, basically, let's face it. How much time does a person spend with a piece of sculpture? An average of perhaps less than one minute, maximum of five or ten, tops. Nobody spends ten minutes looking at one piece of sculpture. So by starting to work with land sculpture in 1968 I was able to make things of scale completely unknown to this time, and able to occupy people with a single work for periods of up to an entire day. A period could even be longer but in this case if it takes you two hours to go out to the piece and if you take four hours to see the piece and it takes you two hours to go back, you have to spend eight hours with this piece, at least four hours with it immediately, although to some extent the entrance and the exit is part of the experience of the piece. So what happened, though, which was very interesting in connection with the idea of theatre or film is that to build one of these pieces becomes a major logistical economic undertaking. Like if a person wants to make a movie, we all now that it takes sixty or eighty thousand dollars to make a feature film of any kind, black and white, not too much original music and not too many name stars, and it takes four or five hundred thousand dollars to make any medium size picture and a million to two million dollars to make any decent type of major film. Well, the notion that maybe a piece of sculpture might take an investment of forty or fifty thousand dollars and . . . but when it's finished, it gives the person an experience with could take him several ours or several days to experience is something I've been fighting now for the last four years, starting now the fifth year.

The comparisons to architecture and cinema are both eye-opening. Minimalists like Judd and Flavin spoke of sculpture as space, but De Maria's talking about sculpture as time. Which is worth remembering when you sign up for a 24-hour stay at the Lightning Field.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: October 15, 2008.

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