Walter De Maria: Boxes for Meaningless Work

Oct 29, 2022 – Apr 23, 2023
Main Building

Featuring works from the Menil Collection, Walter De Maria: Boxes for Meaningless Work is the first museum exhibition in the United States to survey the artist’s more than fifty-year-long career. Over the past decade, the Menil has significantly deepened its holdings of work by the influential American artist Walter De Maria (1935–2013). A number of these acquisitions will be on public display for the first time in the museum’s exhibition, which draws its title from the artist’s early interest in the concept of “meaningless work.”

The show opens with a presentation of De Maria’s plywood sculptures from the early 1960s, when the artist participated in New York City’s avant-garde music and performance circles. In his manifesto from that era, he wrote that he wanted to make art about arbitrary and sometimes humorous actions and playful gestures lacking any productive outcome. Radically simple in their modest materials and construction, the resulting works embody the nascent ideas that led to the development of the Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Earth Art movements later in the decade.

Highlighting De Maria’s varied and innovative approaches to media and scale, the exhibition will include a large group of conceptual drawings and photography, sculpture related to the development of the artist’s innovative land art projects of the 1970s, as well as examples of his sound and film work. It concludes with stainless-steel sculptures and monumental paintings from The Statement series from the last decade of his life. These late works reveal the artist’s sustained exploration of perception, space, the forces of nature, and the concept of the sublime.

Born in Albany, California, De Maria attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied history and art. He lived and worked in New York beginning in the 1960s, when he turned to sculpture, participated in happenings, and experimented with other media, including film and music. (He was an early member of the Velvet Underground, formed by Lou Reed and John Cale). De Maria’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States was held at the Menil Collection in 2011. He has had seven major solo museum exhibitions in Europe.

This exhibition is curated by Brad Epley, former Chief Conservator, and Michelle White, Senior Curator.

Major funding for this exhibition is provided by The Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation. Additional support comes from Suzanne Deal Booth; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Hilda Curran; Cindy and David Fitch; Cece and Mack Fowler; Janet and Paul Hobby; John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation; Susan and Francois de Menil; Susanne and William E. Pritchard III; and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

Research for this exhibition was supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

“Walter De Maria: Boxes for Meaningless Work” at the Menil Collection, Houston. Video: Jay Clark
In Conversation: Michael Harrison on Walter De Maria and Music | The Menil Collection, Houston, TX. November 3, 2022.
Donna De Salvo on Walter De Maria | The Menil Collection, Houston, TX. February 2, 2023.