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The Earth Room 1977

by Walter De Maria, October 1, 1935 – July 25, 2013

In the middle of the modern, manmade neighborhood of Soho, a residential building hides something rarely—if ever—found indoors. As you enter the building and start up the stairs to the second floor, the smell of damp soil infuses the air. The Earth Room, an installation at 141 Wooster created by Walter De Maria in 1977, is an apartment full of knee-high natural earth.

The nature-inspired work is striking to see in the middle of our concrete jungle. De Maria was very particular about the color of the earth, and the dirt you see today has not been replaced—it’s the same earth that he selected in 1977. Earth is vital to life, yet it’s easy to live a life free of mud and dirt in a city as concrete as New York. The Earth Room asks us to question how nature fits into our lives. Do we find it comforting to see the outdoors inside, or is it confusing? In a world where we take our shoes off to enter a house, the Earth Room reverses our expectations.

This piece is one of four in a series of large installations by De Maria. Another of the four, The Broken Kilometer, can be seen a short walk away at 393 West Broadway and consists of 50 two-meter rods carefully arranged to represent the title of the piece. The Vertical Earth Kilometer, a kilometer-long rod dug into the ground, is in Kassel, Germany. And Lightning Field, in New Mexico, is a one kilometer by one mile grid with poles pointing skyward.

This Earth Room is the only one of three Earth Rooms made by De Maria that is still in existence. The 280,000 pounds of dirt (127,000 kilograms) required structural reinforcements in the building, and it is maintained by the Dia Foundation. They ensure the soil is raked and watered weekly to keep it looking as fresh as it was upon installation.

Note that The Earth Room 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.


1977 Earth Room Installed
1977 Jimmy Carter becomes president

Reference Links

tidbit Walter De Maria
sight Walter De Maria's Studio
sight The Broken Kilometer
internal Walter De Maria
internal Walter De Maria - Wiki
internal Washington Post: Escapes: 'The Earth Room' and Other Art by Walter De Maria in New York
internal gDoc

Talking Points

  • 1977
  • first exhibited in Munich in 1968, gallery filled with earth, opening reception happened in front of gallery
  • DeMaria particular about the color of earth, gets racked and watered once a week to keep original look
  • think about: the importance to earth in our lives but how we have banished it—especially in new york where there is so much cement, the mixing up of inside and outside