The Menil Collection presents Walter De Maria: Trilogies an exhibition on view September 16, 2011−January 8, 2012.
Organized by the artist and Menil director Josef Helfenstein, Walter De Maria: Trilogies is the artist’s first major museum exhibition in the U.S. The exhibition includes three series of related works: one painting series and two sculpture series, each comprised of three parts.
“We are extremely proud to present Walter De Maria’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States,” said Menil Director Josef Helfenstein. “The artist already holds an important place in the Menil’s permanent collection, and for the first time, visitors can see and experience the full scale and depth of his provocative ideas.”
The Statement Series, which occupies the museum foyer, consists of three large horizontal, monochrome paintings: Red Painting, Yellow Painting, and Blue Painting. In addition to acting as a dramatic spatial ensemble, each painting has a small rectangular plate of polished stainless steel at its center, engraved with a singular statement.
The exhibition continues with the Channel Series: Circle, Square, Triangle (1972), a trilogy that resides in the Menil’s permanent collection. The basic geometric shapes in this series are outlined by lengths of metal with squared sides, forming a U-shaped channel. Each channel contains a solid stainless steel sphere, which is moveable—introducing an element of randomness to the work.
The third series of works, Bel Air Trilogy (2000–2011), consists of three 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air automobiles, meticulously restored with only minor customizations by the artist. Highly popular because of its crisp, clean design and classic lines, this renowned model often featured a signature two-tone color scheme; the three cars exhibited here are a matched set, each painted in “Gypsy Red” and “Shoreline Beige.”
While considering each car as a beautiful object in itself, the artist has intervened with a component familiar within his work: a highly polished metal rod. The front windshield of each car has been pierced by a 12-foot-long stainless steel rod that runs through the interior of the passenger compartment parallel to the chassis, exiting through the rear window. Each rod has a distinct geometric shape: again the primary forms of a square, a circle, and a triangle. The long minimalist rods, with their reflective surfaces and classic linear, three-dimensional form, share some of the same qualities as the 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The combination and interaction of these two elements activate the new work.
Born in Albany, California, in 1935, Walter De Maria attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied history and art, completing a master’s degree in 1959. Although trained as a painter, De Maria soon turned to sculpture and began using other media, participating in Happenings and making music and films. Over the last fifty years De Maria has played a continuous role in the development of four major art movements: Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Land Art (Earthworks), and Installation Art.
By the late 1960s, De Maria had started to conceive of the earth itself as a site and medium for artworks of immense scale, free of the limits of gallery or museum. In 1968 he made Mile Long Drawing, two parallel white chalk marks set twelve feet apart that ran for a mile across one of the vast, dry salt lakes of California’s Mojave Desert. De Maria is perhaps best known for Lightning Field (1977), a geometrically precise arrangement of 400 pointed stainless steel poles set in mile-by-kilometer grid in a remote desert of western New Mexico.
De Maria’s complex investigations—using rigorous mathematical principles, natural materials and environments, and precisely manufactured elements—do not lead to a vision of rational materialism, but to one of enduring mystery. Trilogies—installations that explore the conceptual, the monumental, the minimal, and the real − expresses some of the defining features of De Maria’s work.
The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross Street
Houston, Texas 77006