Right Place, Right Action, Right Time: Tadao Ando and Walter De Maria

December 12, 2013

For almost all of my adult life, I have studied and examined and thought about the work of Walter De Maria. The sense of personal, physical involvement required by his sculpture, its elemental vocabulary, and the ineffable presence of carefulness, intellect, and authority that reside within it enabled me to look at the world in a calm and subjective way, and to pay attention to detail. The simplicity of De Maria’s work allowed me to empty my mind and to see things in a larger light, without imposing preconceived ideas. De Maria’s belief that “the invisible is real” greatly influenced my thinking.

I had never had the kind of artistic experience with architecture that I have experienced with the traditional visual arts, although I have paid a great deal of attention to architects and their structures, making pilgrimages to many of the great buildings around the world. Things changed for me several years ago, when I traveled to Naoshima, Japan, to see De Maria’s piece, Time/Timeless/No Time (2004), and encountered Tadao Ando’s exquisite Chichu Art Museum. It was here that the merging of architecture and art became apparent, and the distinction between them was no longer visible or relevant.

Chichu Art Museum, photo by Tadao Ando Chichu Art Museum, photo by Iwan Baan

De Maria first traveled to Naoshima in 1997, at the invitation of Soichiro Fukutake, president of the Benesse Corporation, to create a new work for the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum. He visited the site several times, finally choosing a rectangular concrete gallery with an expansive view of the ocean, designed by Tadao Ando.

Ando’s transcendently beautiful, spare, narrow, space, brightly lit by the sun for a while, then darkening like a cave as the sun goes down, clearly inspired one of De Maria’s most mysterious and important pieces. The physical constraints of Ando’s narrow gallery, and the impossibility of seeing the De Maria sculpture all at once, cause the viewer to slow down, empty his mind of expectations, and have the essential pleasure of a profound and personal artistic experience.

Walter De Maria, Time/Timeless/No Time, 2004, in situ at the Chichu Art Museum. Photo courtesy of 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia Walter De Maria, Time/Timeless/No Time, 2004, in situ at the Chichu Art Museum. Photo courtesy of 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

Later, Time/Timeless/No Time was created for the Chichu Art Museum that opened nearby in 2004. The museum was conceived as a space where art and architecture would exist as a single entity, and Tadao Ando, who was the architect, worked very much in the capacity of an artist, creating spaces together with De Maria and James Turrell that worked with their particular and difficult artistic requirements. At Chichu, De Maria’s great and impressive work is palpably activated by the clarity and deliberation of what Ando had created in the gallery. The two artists share a passionate apprehension of details that combine and flow into large ideas. They both emphasize nothingness and the beauty of simplicity, and they both insist on the physical experience of their work. There is a forceful and delicate presence and compositional virtuosity that gives order and clarity to both the installation and the architecture—sort of spiritual but free of mysticism. As De Maria has said, “In my life and work I seek . . . the right place, the right action, the right time.”

Tomorrow evening, Tadao Ando will speak about architecture and art at Art Catalogues at LACMA. Kulapat Yantrasast, architect and cofounder of the L.A.-based firm why design, will conduct conversations with Ando comprised of questions posed by artists, architects, curators, clients, and the curious. I’m honored to have the opportunity to host Mr. Ando at Art Catalogues and to hear him discuss his ideas and work. It’s a rare pleasure to meet one of the world’s finest architects, and to have a book signed by him!

Dagny Corcoran, Art Catalogues at LACMA