As one of the most innovative artists of the last six decades, Walter De Maria challenged the very possibilities of art. He is known worldwide for his important sculptures, most famously The Lightning Field, but his profound contribution to the practices of music, drawing, photography and film has been largely forgotten within the history of contemporary art. Featuring in-depth analysis of many previously unknown works and correspondence, Walter De Maria: Meaningless Work is the first major critical account of his broad range of work.
In a 1960 score, Walter De Maria called for ‘meaningless work’: art that does not ‘accomplish a conventional purpose’. At stake was whether art could maintain its relevance in the face of an array of cultural and social possibility. This led to a dizzying period of experimentation for De Maria – from happenings to rock ’n’ roll, through the deserts of the world, into television and outer space, and against the limiting configurations of the art press. The resulting work reflected shifts in how we understand the sites of art, and also place, during an era of moon shots and road trips, of wars that moved from jungles to living rooms via electromagnetic waves, and of race, gender and sexuality vying for space in the social realm. In bringing to light De Maria’s lesser-known works, this book challenges established histories and methodologies for art of the 1960s and ’70s, while also explaining De Maria’s own abiding interest in the possibilities of art.
‘McFadden’s important monograph on De Maria pulls this famous artist out of the narrow Land Art box. She surveys De Maria’s career and argues that a broadly conceived and intermedia concept of experience best explains De Maria’s eclectic oeuvre. The picture that emerges is not that of a Land Artist, but a cross-disciplinary explorer. A much-needed comprehensive study that will go a long way in enriching our understanding of De Maria as well as the era in which he worked.’ – David Raskin, Mohn Family Professor of Contemporary Art History, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
‘McFadden’s book is a brilliant reassessment of the art and career one of the most independent-minded American artists of the post-war generation. Although De Maria’s Lightning Field has dominated accounts of his art, McFadden shows that this seminal piece was only one of a number of ways in which the artist deftly played in the spaces between immediacy and mediation, between the ping of first-hand experience and the iterative strategies of intermedia.’ – Matthew Simms, Associate Professor of Art History, California State University
Jane McFadden is Associate Professor and Chair, Humanities & Sciences at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California.