Monday, July 29, 2013

RIP Walter De Maria

[Photo by Patrick Rogers]

Famed sculptor Walter De Maria died last Thursday of a stroke, according to published reports. He was 77.

Here's part of a feature obituary from The Los Angeles Times:

Throughout his career, De Maria cultivated a somewhat reclusive personality as far as the media was concerned. He seldom gave interviews and disliked being photographed. He also avoided participating in museum shows when he could, preferring to create his installations outdoors or at unconventional urban locations.

As a result, his work was not widely exhibited in the U.S. and he never became a household name. But critics championed his work, finding his large-scale installations to be conceptual and intellectually complex, while at the same time accessible to the general public.

He was also a one-time drummer for the Primitives, a Velvet Underground precursor. The band members included Lou Reed, John Cale and Tony Conrad.

De Maria also owned one of the more intriguing buildings in the East Village — the mysterious 421 E. Sixth St. between First Avenue and Avenue A... I wonder what will happen to the building... Here's what I wrote about the address back in December in a post titled "What is your East Village dream home?"


I've always had my eye on 421 E. Sixth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.

According to Forgotten New York: "421 was a Con Edison substation built in 1920-21 that converted direct current to alternating. It is at present (2008) the studio of modern artist/sculptor Walter De Maria."

Off the Grid just had a post on this landmarked building, offering more background:

According to a 1919 Board of Appeals resolution, the “four-story fireproof transformer building” would accommodate a switchboard room, static air chambers, blower room and rotary foundations on the first floor; rotaries, transformer, and booster compensator on the second floor; a battery room on the third floor; and a high tension room and blower and exhaust chambers on the fourth floor. Three people would work on the first floor and two on the second.

I've never met anyone who has been inside. I'm not sure if any photos exist of the interior. Kinda "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"-ish.


Here's more on the building via Wikimedia Commons:

421 East 6th Street between Avenue A and First Avenue in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City was built in 1919 as a transformer substation for the New York Edison Co., and was designed by William W. Whitehill in the Neo-classical style. It converted DC current into AC. The bulding was converted to a multi-use commercial structure in 1963, and has been owned by artist Walter De Maria since 1980.

[February 2013. Photo by Derek Berg]

Previously on EV Grieve:
About that "giant-robot laboratory" on East Sixth Street


Anonymous said...

Last year when ConEd was doing some work on the street in front of 421 E. 6th St., the door was open so I ventured inside. There is a vestibule that extends about ten feet into the interior and from one side to the other. The ceiling is about 20' from the floor, and there are two doors in the center. That was all I saw. I assume that the remainder of the ground floor is one big room with a 20' high ceiling, or maybe it's divided into two rooms.
It will be interesting to see what happens to the building. Maybe the Dia Foundation will have a say in it, or maybe it will go on the market.
I saw him four or five years ago when he opened the front door apparently looking for a delivery.
As I walked past I asked him if he was Walter De Maria. He scowled, said no, and slammed the door shut.

Bill the libertarian anarchist

Anonymous said...

I have wondered about this building for years. I think I once looked it up and mistakenly saw that William Wegman owned it, so for years I went around hopefully expecting to see some weimeraners entering or exiting. Oh well. Wrong artist. Sad about de Maria.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Oh, no, this is sad news.

I saw WDM a couple of times shoveling snow outside 421 and have always fantasized about that building. Somewhere, I saw a photo of him inside his work studio and it looked like he was on the inside of that second floor window.

Anonymous said...

Wegman's studio was just a couple doors to the east.

Anonymous said...


I respect his desire for privacy however.

I've always looked up at the building walking by and wondered about its origins. Its a beautiful building, my only hope is that it doesn't succumb to gentrification is all!

aveaisessex said...

Nice coverage, Grieve.

Anonymous said...

I live on 6th and I pass this building all the time. I had been curious about it for some time and only knew the back story through your coverage, Grieve. I always pictured it sort of like Vincent Price's house in Edward Scissorhands.

sinestra said...

I also always loved that building and wondered what it was like inside. Glad it's landmarked and was home to an artist.

Anonymous said...

I just walked by it on my way home and noticed the ground floor light on to the left side of the building near the back side. Is someone there? I saw a woman there a couple times. Assistant? Wife?

Bill the libertarian anarchist

Parlor said...

I am sure that William Wegmans studio was there. I was invited to meet Faye Ray and her puppies there around 1995. The interior is pretty cool!

Bayou said...

Wegman long left the neighborhood, but you are welcome to prowl for weimeraners at his long time home on 18th Street between 6th and 7th - large grey building with his wife's gallery in the storefront - opposite Barney's Co-op.

Anonymous said...

I worked on this interesting building, back in the late 1970's when it used to be the headquarters to Cohen's Fashion Optical. Legend has it that in 1974, it was used to shoot some scenes of "The Godfather" It's high ceilings, were helpful in the installation of production lights for filming.