Walter de Maria's "Broken Kilometer"

  • by Jenny Bahn

The relative proliferation of horizontal sculptures common in the Minimal Art movement of ‘60s and ‘70s New York City is emblematic of the generous access to space the artists were provided. Laid out flat, the works are disassembled versions of their vertical forebearers, almost rudely consuming of space. With the present state of Manhattan real estate as it is (and all the outer boroughs, for that matter), the idea of dedicating an entire SoHo loft to a series of brass rods seems absolutely absurd, and this beautiful absurdity is precisely what the Dia Foundation maintains with its permanent installation of late artist Walter de Maria’s “The Broken Kilometer.”

Created in 1979 and occupying 125-foot long loft situated on a prime slice of West Broadway, “The Broken Kilometer” is comprised of 500 solid brass rods arranged meticulously in rows spanning the glossed wooden floors with an absolute precision of space. Unlike his early work, which invited viewers to participate, the piece practically commands breathlessness, for fear you might disrupt the absolute stasis. (His “Boxes for Meaningless Work” circa 1961, on the other hand, called for movement, and  came with the rather wry instructions to “Transfer things from one box to the next box back and forth, back and forth, etc. Be aware that what you are doing is meaningless.”)

Impactful and repetitive as headstones in an old graveyard, “The Broken Kilometer” represents a period of New York City that has, in a way, died--an environment that more easily supported artists with the room to breathe and create. The maintenance of such sites in the city does, in its own small way, keep the spirit of the old NYC creative alive.

Photos courtesy of Dia Foundation



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