Why is this interesting? The Earth Room Edition

On art, hidden spaces in NYC, and 280,000 pounds of dirt

Colin here. If you spend a lot of time in New York, you tend to have your spots. If you’re a resident, you generally have the go-to restaurants (for me, it was Lucky Strike RIP) where you know you can stroll in, have a good meal, and be taken care of. The same goes for bars, museums, and general things to do. 

This can also be said about frequent business travelers. It’s easy to get into a locked groove of the same hotel, same breakfasts, and same well-worn path to your pre-COVID office.

But half the fun of spending time in a city is throwing yourself an occasional curveball. And one of my favorites of all is a room in New York that is entirely full of dirt. Sure, people who are into Judd and minimalism and hang out in Marfa will know it, but for others, it is an absolutely incredible mini-trip to tack onto a SoHo stroll.

Atlas Obscura breaks it down:

THE EARTH ROOM IS A 22-inch-deep layer of dirt spread across a 3,600-square-foot gallery space in the middle of Soho.

Created by American artist Walter De Maria in 1977, it has been a peaceful, quiet sanctuary from the bustle of the street below for three decades, where the mix of smells from the streets of New York are reduced to only one: the rich smell of soil. While there were originally two additional Earth Rooms, both in Germany, this is the last one remaining.

To keep the Earth Room in good shape, curators must regularly water the dirt. Occasional mushrooms have been found sprouting in the 280,000 pounds of dirt. Though it would be a difficult piece to transport and reinstall elsewhere, it is estimated to be worth at least a million dollars. The space itself, in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood, is probably worth much more.

Why is this interesting? 

For one, it is an experience that can make even the most jaded urban goer smile. First, you notice the stark brown and white contrast. Second, you notice the acoustics of the room and a strange calmness. Then you notice the smell of earth, 280,000 pounds of it, in stark contrast to the urban surroundings and picturesque SoHo buildings. Rachel Gould nailed it by saying, “The artwork is a known entity among savvy New Yorkers, but without signage or fanfare or promotion, experiencing The New York Earth Room is like finding an architectural ruin.” You buzz a door at 141 Wooster, walk up some stairs as if you’re meeting a friend at their chic SoHo loft. 

And the best thing is, you don’t have to read a pretentious artist statement. Walter De Maria left no context or explanation of his work and didn’t give a lot of interviews. So, the space is as high concept or as whimsical as you want to make it. Plus, there’s no photography allowed, a rarity in our image and social saturated world. (CJN)

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Cartoon of the Day:

Just ran across this New Yorker cartoon from August by Emma Hunsinger again. (As an aside, she’s also responsible for the very hilarious How to draw a horse.) (NRB)

Quick links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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