The Tip of the Lightning. The Lightning Field between Nature, Art and Technology
This monograph on Walter De Maria`s “Lightning Field” is the first to analyze the form of the lightning and of the lightning rods employing formanalytical methods in order to prove that the tip of the lightning and of the lightning rods are both constructs based on the iconographical tradition of how lightning has been depicted since antiquity.
Walter de Maria’s gigantic sculpture in the desert of New Mexico with its 400 stainless steel poles became an icon of post-war American art. The Lightning Field (1974-77) is not only the most expensive post-war artwork but according to the artist’s intention the „best sculpture of the 20th century“.
This iconic status resulted from the power of its images: the moment when lightning strikes the poles, attracted by their tips.
The whole setting, the reproductions and the highly restricted circumstances of the work’s reception all put the focus on these tips of the lightning, a fact which has never before been questioned by art historians and critics – up until the present monograph.
“The Tip of the Lightning” offers a new horizon of layers of meaning pertaining to the Lightning Field visible.
A further analysis anchors the Lightning Field in the context of present-day developments in military technology (e.g. radio telescopes among other things) and examine the impact of media when dealing with such iconographically loaded images.
The book concludes with the statement that this research can give a whole new field of interpretation of this unique movement pertaining to 1970s America through the close-reading of a monographic approach to a single piece of art.
“The Tip of the Lightning” does not only contribute to a new interpretation of this icon of American art, but also provides an example how art historical research can contribute to the understanding of a broader historical context situated between the histories of art, technology and nature.
Keywords: Land Art; Walter De Maria; Nature; Art History; Scientific images; technology and art; US postwar art