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The Lightning Field is an enormous piece of artwork, covering a rectangle one mile (1.6 km) by .62 miles (1 km.) In the remote desert of New Mexico, this work is nearly inaccessible, and can only be visited by those reserving accommodations at the nearby cabin. The Lighting Field is the work of Walter De Maria, an American minimalist sculpture known for his use of natural landscapes.
In form, the Lightning Field is quite simple. Over a large stretch of fairly flat ground, 400 stainless steel poles are set into the ground, each about 20 ft (6 m) high and 220 ft (67 m) away from one another. The poles are quite thin, only two inches (5 cm) in diameter. Visitors have free access to the site, and can walk around and examine the field at their leisure.
Despite the name of the work, the Lightning Field does not truly work to attract lightning, though as metal poles the elements of the piece can draw lightning to them. According to one art critic, if lightning strikes a pole it will char and need to be replaced as soon as possible, so lightning strikes are actually detrimental to the work. However, the official website of the artwork, suggests visiting in midsummer, when thunderstorms are frequent, to have the best possibility of seeing lightning hit the field.
In order to visit the Lightning Field, you must make a reservation to stay at the adjacent cabin, a rustic building that can accommodate up to 6 people. Arriving at the site is somewhat mysterious, with visitors picked up in a nearby town and taken up to the field; you are not allowed to take your own car to see the work. Guests are given rudimentary supper and breakfast makings, and returned to town by noon on the following day. While at the site, guests are on their own schedule, encouraged to study the artwork in varying lighting and climate conditions.
Many visitors to the Lightning Field regard the experience as a profound encounter with art and nature. The enormity of the piece is astonishing to some critics, and many report feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. According to visitors, the poles seem to vanish in certain conditions, such as when the sun is directly overhead. In the evening, the shadow of the poles stretch farther and farther out, waiting for the sun to set.
Visiting the Lightning Field is quite an ordeal, but many report the experience as quite worth it. Guests are charged $250 US Dollars (USD) per night to stay at the cabin, with some student and child discounts available. Because space is so limited, reservations may need to be made months ahead of time. The Lightning Field is not a tourist destination or even a typical piece of art, yet for an unusual artistic experience that may change your perspective on what art can be, there may be no better place.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Lightning Field and who created it?
The Lightning Field is a land art installation created by American sculptor Walter De Maria. It consists of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer in the high desert of western New Mexico. The poles are positioned to attract lightning and are meant to provide an immersive experience for viewers, particularly during thunderstorms when the potential for lightning strikes highlights the interaction between the artwork and the natural elements.
How can I visit The Lightning Field, and are there any restrictions?
Visits to The Lightning Field are managed by the Dia Art Foundation and require advance reservations due to the limited accommodations and the desire to maintain an intimate experience for visitors. Overnight stays are typically offered from May through October, and only six visitors are allowed per night to preserve the solitude and impact of the installation. All visits are subject to weather conditions, and access may be restricted during periods of inclement weather for safety reasons.
What is the purpose of The Lightning Field, and what experience does it aim to provide?
The Lightning Field is designed to encourage contemplation and interaction with the surrounding landscape and the elements. Walter De Maria intended for the installation to be more than just a visual experience; it's meant to engage viewers with the environment, the changing light, and weather patterns, especially the dramatic electrical storms that are common in the area. The artwork becomes a conduit for experiencing the power and beauty of nature, blurring the lines between art, earth, and sky.
Has The Lightning Field been successful in attracting lightning, and is it safe to visit during a storm?
While The Lightning Field is indeed capable of attracting lightning, it does not significantly increase the likelihood of lightning strikes compared to the surrounding area. Safety measures are in place, and visitors are provided with instructions on how to stay safe during thunderstorms. The cabins where visitors stay are equipped with lightning protection, and guests are advised to remain indoors if a storm is nearby.
What impact has The Lightning Field had on land art and contemporary art in general?
The Lightning Field is considered one of the most significant works of land art and has had a profound impact on both the genre and contemporary art as a whole. It challenges traditional notions of sculpture and the relationship between art and the environment. By integrating the artwork so seamlessly with the natural landscape, Walter De Maria helped to expand the possibilities of artistic expression and inspired future generations of artists to explore the intersection of art, nature, and technology.