New York is full of bizarre things – sheep sculptures at gas stations, zombie parades and loos with transparent walls – but none as bizarre as what I encountered today: A room filled with nothing but 280,000 pounds of dirt.
At lunchtime, Hayley and I headed a few blocks north to the Earth Room at 141 Wooster Street. The one-room gallery is pretty inconspicuous; from the street it looks like just another of SoHo’s beautifully crafted white stone buildings. Only a sign telling you to ring 2B and head upstairs lets you know you’re in the right place.
After we were buzzed in, we took the stairs and came to the room filled with dark, clumpy soil. It smelled fresh and damp and, well, like dirt. A perspex divider between me and the soil showed it was about two feet high and it reached across the space to the windows and far walls.
The New York Earth Room is a work by Walter De Maria that’s been on show since 1980. Dirt fills 3,600 square feet of floor place and reaches 22 inches deep and every week, a caretaker – the same caretaker for the past 30 years – waters and rakes it.
The room doesn’t do anything. You can only see it from one vantage point and you can’t walk onto it – although you can reach out and touch the soil. But there’s something about it that makes you stand still and keep quiet, letting the cool air wash over you.
It’s maintained by the Dia Art Foundation but I have no idea how they afford an entire floor in SoHo – one of the most expensive places in the city – and choose to put nothing inside but dirt. And yet I love that – it’s hilarious and bold. Like sticking up two fingers to the man. (Or one finger, if you’re American.)
The Earth Room is open from 10am until 6pm in the week – so if you’re in SoHo, I say you track down 2B and marvel at one of the most bizarre shows the city has to offer.