Earth Notes: New Mexico’s Lightning Field

Jul 11, 2012

For over three decades, a gleaming grid of 400 stainless steel poles has drawn art-world visitors to a place more accustomed to pronghorn and occasional wandering cattle—the high, lonesome desert of western New Mexico’s Catron County.

Commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation of New York, the Lightning Field is the creation of sculptor Walter de Maria, who in the 1970s designed this Earth Art sculpture as an homage to place—and to people’s relationship to it.

The installation is particularly compelling in summer, when monsoon thunderstorms sometimes send bolts of lightning crackling down on their namesake artwork. But the sculpture is impressive in any weather, particularly due to its size: one mile long and one kilometer wide. The polished poles average over 20 feet in height. Their tops form a level plane that from certain angles looks a little like an oversized, flattened pincushion.

The Dia Art Foundation specializes in maintaining this and other works whose nature and scale exceed the normal limits of a museum or gallery. It is currently engaged in restoring the Lightning Field after 35 years of weather extremes.

If you’re interested in visiting the Lightning Field, you can—for a price. The Dia Foundation arranges limited visits from the town of Quemado during spring, summer, and early fall. They feature an overnight stay in a nearby cabin, and an opportunity to experience the Lightning Field’s shimmering beauty at sunset and sunrise.