Explore Float

The Broken Kilometer 1979

by Walter De Maria, 1935–2013

Hidden at 393 West Broadway is a piece that many New Yorkers don’t even know exists. It’s an installation by Walter De Maria that takes up an entire loft and has been maintained by the Dia Foundation since 1979. It consists of 500 meticulously aligned brass rods, each two meters long, adding up to one complete kilometer in length.

De Maria is known for his minimalist art, usually made of simple geometric shapes often produced by industrially manufactured materials. Another seminal piece of his is The Lightning Field, a one kilometer by one mile grid of 400 stainless steel poles in New Mexico. The Broken Kilometer and Lightning Field are two pieces of a four-part series of large installations. The other two are The Earth Room in Soho and the Vertical Earth Kilometer in Kassel, Germany. The Vertical Earth Kilometer is a sister to this piece and consists of a similar solid brass rod extending one kilometer into the earth, the only visible part being one end that is flush with the ground.

Rarely explaining his work, De Maria’s art uses shapes and concepts that we see and use every day, like distance or soil, but he rarely explained his intentions behind his work. He wanted the viewer to read and understand the shapes as a visual language. The element of trust is also very important in his work as it requires the viewer to buy into his ideas, almost participate and have us reflect on all the other things we trust on a daily basis without thinking about.

While the shapes and textures seem basic, a closer look shows more contrast in his overall sense of the art experience. For instance, he was also a musician, playing music that could be considered must less restrained than his art. He was in a few bands, most notably The Primitives, which later became rock band The Velvet Underground in the post-De Maria years.

DeMaria continued to create installations around the world until he passed away in 2013, leaving us to wonder about his unchanging works and their meanings in an ever moving world.

Note that The Broken Kilometer is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12pm-6pm (closed 3:00-3:30pm). It is also closed through the summer from mid-June through mid-September. Admission is free.

Reference Links

tidbit Walter De Maria
sight The Earth Room
internal Walter De Maria
link Thirty Years of Eternity
internal Walter DeMaria - Wiki
internal gDoc

Talking Points

  • 1977
  • Hidden in bustling Soho is a room with one of De Maria’s minimalist works
  • 500 brass rods, each 2 meters long, together they make up 1km
  • visually looks evenly spaced, in fact every piece 5mm further apart than preceding and lifted on stilts from the 3rd column.
  • think about: precision, human connection, mystery, trust

Vertical Kilometer

  • Sister piece in kassel germany
  • cement slab with top of brass rod visible
  • goes into the earth for 1km

Walter De Maria

  • shy, didnt give many intervies or explain his work, watched a lot of tv
  • wanted the work to speak for itself and stand on its own
  • lived in Power Substation on E 6th Street
  • died at 77 from stroke, while visiting mother for 100th birthday
  • think about: why artits dont talk about their work? mystery? there isnt anything to say about – only to look at? they chose the visual medium purposefully


  • Lets look at another piece of walters
  • and on the way there understand a little more about this community that was forming in soho