Thursday, September 23, 2004

Best Soho Roadside Attractions

Below you'll find the write-up I wrote-up for the school paper on the Earth Room and Broken Kilometer installations I visited a few posts ago with Emily Cox. I'm not entirely happy with my write-up, but it expresses the main idea pretty well: there is a giant room full of dirt (and an enormous room full of metal bars) in Soho and they've been there forever and no one seems to really know about them . . . or not enough people seem to know about them. I mean, I had to find out about them from an Arts-Person, but these things should be as popular and well-known as, say, as popular and well-known as a gigantic concrete dinosaur in the middle of Central Park, if there were such a thing. (You'll see that I can't let this dinosaur analogy be) So, behold, numerous paragraphs of me not being able to put my mind around these two great works of art:

A Field of Dirt Awaits in Soho

All right. What if I told you that there’s a 3,600 square foot loft in SoHo where the entire floor is covered with dirt piled three feet deep? Perhaps “piled” is the wrong word, as the clumpy earth is raked once a week, like an agricultural effort never to bare crops? So, let me ask you again, what if I told you that, down in SoHo, home to some of Manhattan’s most luxurious shops and residences, there is a loft which completely betrays the neighborhoods’ artistic origins, an enormous room is filled with well-tended, frequently watered dark dirt that rests three feet deep that covers every inch of the floor? Well, it’s a crazy thought, and it exists, and anyone can see it.

Maintained since the 1980’s by the Dia Art Foundation, “The New York Earth Room” was created by renowned “earth artist” Walter DeMaria. The New York Earth Room is located at 141 Wooster Street, a fairly unassuming building across the street from the Adidas and Stussy stores between Houston and Prince. A small sign above the buzzers for the building is all that announces the presence of the installation to the outside world. Curious visitors need only press the Dia building and pass through the buzzing doors (the exhibit curator/security guard in the small office off to the side of the Earth Room has been buzzing up about thirty visitors a day since he got the job in 1989), then walk up one flight of stairs and there they are, staring down a big, brown, humid room.

Upon my visit to the Earth Room, the first thing I noticed was the smell of earth that fills the space from the moment you enter the stairwell, followed by the breathing, living humidity of the inorganic resident of the building’s second floor. As enormous as the “sculpture” is, it doesn’t take very long to take it all in. What takes a long time is to get over the fact that it exists. One is instantly tempted to calculate the value of this raw space south of Houston (after all, homes in Soho approach and often surpass the $1000/square foot mark) as well as to deal with the odd serenity of the installation. Looking it over, simple observations passed through my head like, “Whoah. There really isn’t very much dirt in New York City. Except for here.”

Once you’ve dealt with the Earth Room, there’s yet another Dia supported DeMaria installation to deal with in SoHo. Called “The Broken Kilometer”, it’s a space of over 8000 square feet at 393 West Broadway where 500 highly polished brass rods, each two meters in length, are arranged in five neat rows of a hundred rods along the length of the floor—and they’ve been there since 1979. Given the great length of the room, the multitude of rods seem to stretch off into the horizon. There is something that just seems to defy reason that these two enormous minimal installations dwell in SoHo, and the fact that they’ve been there for so long yet aren’t among New York City’s most visited destinations boggles the mind. What I mean is, while the southwestern states are full of enormous dinosaur statues announcing gas stations, why should such enormous testaments of artistic innovation dwell behind inconspicuous doors virtually unknown to the rest of the world? Yes, it’s great that the art hasn’t been cheapened with attention, or whatever, but, come on, there are these rooms and they are full of crazy stuff. Everyone should go check it out.


Anonymous said...

I yearn to see them all.

Brig said...

Who are you, Anonymous? I always ask. I never find out.