Part of the generation of artists that includes Robert Smithson, Eva Hesse, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, Walter de Maria's oeuvre is concerned with ideas of object-relatedness and the infinite possibilities that arise from Conceptual and Minimalist art.
The present work, entitled Large Rod Series: Circle/Rectangle 5,7,9,11,14 from 1986 addresses several of his concerns, specifically the ideas of symbolism and signs, as well as the concept of self reference and the experience of the sublime. As Michael Govan of the Dia Center has stated "the notion of the sublime suggests a continuum between the experience given to us by our senses, the thoughtfulness given to us by our minds, and some other zone inaccessible to us. The immediate visual sensation of De Maria's sculpture withholds another reality of calculated mathematical measure that must be understood in the mind and that, in turn, may refer to some unknown universal order" (M. Govan in Walter de Maria at www.diacenter.org).
This work consists of stainless steel elements, each unique in its shape. The seemingly simple nature of the work, which appears at first glance to be solely concerned with numerology, geometry and absolute perfection, is in fact just the surface layer. Beneath this are layers of deeper meaning which illustrate the "play between the universal underlying cosmic continuum of natural abstract mathematics and our arbitrary culturally defined units of measurement" (Ibid).
In this work, as with the other works from the Large Rod Series, De Maria invites the owner of the work to arrange the pieces in different formations, one linear and the other circular. As Franz Meyer has stated regarding the work of De Maria, "Only the doing is important, not the result (F. Meyer in Walter de Maria, exh. cat., Museum für Modern Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 1991, p. 13). By arranging the various elements ourselves, we are forced to interact with the work and are made to reflect upon the basic geometric signs which are also present in our every day lives, something which De Maria previously addressed in his Circle Square Triangle series, and with works such as Cross, Museum Piece and Star. Simultaneously, the notion of the ritual proves to be an important factor in De Maria's asking of us to repeatedly alter the formation of the elements. The artist intends for the viewer or observer to experience the basic acts of creation, destruction and recognition, in order for us to feel that we have truly understood the fundamental sublime nature of life.
Throughout his career De Maria has been greatly influenced by Eastern thought and ideology, and more specifically with "the polarity between self reference and the experience of the sublime, a critical examination of power and the mobilizing of spiritual energy, a revival of the tradition symbolism of signs and numbers, as well as a greater awareness of the earth as our planetary home, as landscape and as matter" (F. Meyer in Walter de Maria, exh. cat., Museum für Modern Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 1991, p. 8). Works such as Lightening Field and The New York Earth Room, both from 1977, speak directly to these ideas.