New York Loft Filled with Dirt

Field review by the editors.

New York, New York

In NYC's trendy high-rent Soho neighborhood you can visit 3,500 square feet of prime loft space filled with dirt. Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room" is exactly as advertised: a permanent art installation (open to the public since 1980) that consists of 280,000 pounds of soil piled 22 inches deep in a stark white room. The work invites contemplation and inhalation, but there's no photography allowed -- and absolutely no touching! A knee-high plexiglass panel prevents visitor from entering (Although there was that time back in 2004 when a bunch of expressive individuals jumped over and managed to create a clandestine mud wrestling video).

De Maria is best known for his environmentally interactive outdoor Lightning Field (1977) in a remote area of western New Mexico (both works are maintained by the deep-pocketed Dia Foundation). This is the third Earth Room produced by the artist; the first two were in Germany and no longer exist -- now mere dust in the wind. Yet in a bustling and ever-evolving city, "The New York Earth Room" is a soothing, hardly-changing presence. There are no pretentious Artspeak captions on the wall, no souvenirs or postcards. You are meant to experience the work directly and draw your own conclusions -- even if that conclusion is "I'm confused."

More fascinating (perhaps because he moves) is the Earth Room's caretaker, Bill Dillworth, who has been watching over the place for over twenty years, patiently raking and watering, buzzing the buzzer, counting the visitors, and, we assume, thinking deep, loamy thoughts.

New York Loft Filled with Dirt

New York Earth Room

141 Wooster St., New York, NY
On the west side of Wooster St. between Prince and Houston Sts, about halfway down the block. Buzz the buzzer and take the steps to the second floor. By subway take the B, D, F, or M to the Broadway Lafayette stop. Walk west on Houston (on the south side of the street). Cross Broadway and go three more blocks to Wooster. Then turn left. (Alternate: N or R to Prince and walk west along Price until you hit Wooster. Then turn north.)
W-Su 12-3, 3:30-6. Closed mid-June to mid-Sep. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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October 22, 2020

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