POLES APART

IF EVER A PLACE NEEDED A GOOD JOLT, THE SNOOTY LIGHTNING FIELD IS IT

While I was having these revelations, Hope had made a dash for the shower and our four companions had sat down to a game of cards. It wasn't until sunset that we all convened on the porch to give the Lightning Field a proper look and get to know each other.

The group consisted of two couples from Alameda, near San Francisco. Sid was a businessman with a tendency to pontificate. His wife, Jan, was an outgoing jeweler with grown kids and a house that was apparently always full of Indian exchange students or apprentice jewelers. Later, she told us she was an excommunicated Mormon. Barbara was a Germany-born florist with an affinity for long, flowing, Sixties-ish clothes. Her husband, Hassan, remained a mystery, except for the news that he was suffering from poison oak. The four were on the last leg of a trip that had wound inevitably through Taos and Santa Fe.

While we sat on the porch, Barbara marched into the Lightning Field and gave one of the poles a good shake. As it whipped back and forth, Sid gave a lecture on the amount of concrete used in each footing.

As the sun got lower, the poles that were almost invisible a few hours before sprang into view as they caught the light, and for a few minutes just before the sun disappeared below the horizon, they shone with a gleaming gold.

"I still think it's hostile," Hope murmured, thinking about those sharp points.
She and I took snapshots of ourselves in front of the Lightning Field by using the timer button and running around in front of the camera. Then Sid told us that photography at the Lightning Field was forbidden because the thing had been copyrighted. His camera had been confiscated.

@rule:
@body:The idea of making art out of large-scale installations in the landscape began in the late Sixties. Artists like Michael Heizer cut trenches in the ground in the wilds of Nevada, while Robert Smithson built a curlicue of rocks in the Great Salt Lake called Spiral Jetty. And Christo built his much-beloved Running Fence. Even today, James Turell is working on a piece that consists of a defunct volcanic crater near Flagstaff.

Although he has also done pieces that can be displayed in art galleries, Walter De Maria's early artwork included a three-mile-long swath cut through the Nevada desert, clearing it of sagebrush. Partly, such works were a revolt against the preciousness of art objects, their existence as commodities that could be bought and sold like stocks. You couldn't sell a hole in the ground, and so such works were thought to be purer.

I began thinking of all these things when I went inside to await dinner and realized there was literally nowhere comfortable to sit and read. I wandered around and slowly began to see the pattern.

The entire cabin was made of rough-cut pine, some boards still bearing the mark of an ax. Closets and cabinets were almost indistinguishable from the walls, since the cabin's builder forswore pull knobs in favor of bent nails or nothing at all.

In the combination living room and dining room, the large table and all the chairs were Mission-style. There was not an upholstered piece in the three-bedroom house. Nor were there curtains on the windows or rugs on the floors. In a concession to modesty, the bathroom windows were covered with skinny Levelor blinds the same color as the walls.

In the bedrooms, the beds had metal frames, mine held together at one corner with wire. Lighting was from the kind of half-globe wall fixtures one hardly sees anymore, although in our bedroom Hope and I also had a table lamp made of hammered tin, Santa Fe-style. When we sat down to dinner that night, the dishes were speckled-blue-enamel campware. The lights flickered every time the refrigerator turned on and pulled juice from the generator.

Dinnertime conversation scarcely touched on the reason we were all here. Barbara talked about a flower-arranging workshop in South Carolina. Jan talked about how her house had burned down. Hope, who works at a newspaper in New Mexico, talked about Bush's chances to carry the state. (A bit of polite inquiry revealed us all as Democrats.) After some requisite bragging about what successes our grown kids were, talk finally turned to the Lightning Field. "Do you think it's elitist?" Hope asked the table. "The way access to it is controlled?"

Sid dove for the opening to give a lecture on how the great mass of humanity doesn't appreciate art, anyway, and would probably rather spend its vacations in Puerto Vallarta. I jumped up to do the dishes, thinking Puerto Vallarta was sounding preferable to Sid. Hope grabbed her jacket and went out for a walk.

Before we turned in for the night, she and I had a juicy gossip about our fellow guests, and agreed that Jan and Barbara were wonderful, Sid was awful and Hassan too quiet to count. I was of the opinion that Sid was uniquely awful; Hope argued he was simply typical of all men.

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