Experience: A room full of dirt

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I rang the buzzer of apartment 2B in an industrial building in SoHo, walked upstairs to second floor and arrived to a room full of dirt. A 3,600-square-foot room filled with 280,000 pounds of earth to the height of 22 inches, to be precise. The space is called The New York Earth Room and it is a long-term installation made by artist Walter de Maria in 1977, commissioned and maintained by Dia Art Foundation.

Although you can’t walk into the space, the experience there was quite fascinating, especially considering its location and context. The stillness, the silence, and the smell of wet soil makes the room appear to be breathing at its own pace, isolated and protected from the rest of the city.

The man who watches over the place is called Bill and he has been working there since 1989, opening/closing the place, keeping count of the number of visitors per day and watering the earth once a week. He was very friendly and explained me some details about the installation.

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Following the recommendation by the anonymous classmate who gave me this experience, I had a coffee at Le Colombe Espresso Bar and then I headed to another building in SoHo to see The Broken Kilometer, a second installation made by Walter de Maria in 1979. This one consists on a vast room occupied by 500 shiny circular brass rods arranged in rows. The caretaker of this artwork is called Patti, and she is the wife of Bill! She told me about other permanent installations by Walter de Maria around the world, many of which have endured over time while some of them have been removed.

I appreciate the existence of these spaces for art that have managed to survive over time despite their context, within the ever-changing New York City, transporting the visitors to introspective viewing experiences where time seems to go slower. Moreover, the fact that these pieces have been in the same place and watched over by the same married couple for more than twenty years is, in my opinion, a big statement of art.

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