A former Con Edison substation on the Lower East Side was reimagined by the late conceptual/ installation artist Walter De Maria as a cavernous home studio and storage facility. It was his dedicated laboratory for the contemplation of his monumental works with grand ceiling heights (13 to 32 feet) and exceptional privacy. De Maria, who died last July at 77, bought the giant four-story building at on East Sixth Street, which runs through to 7th Street along with an adjacent lot in 1980. The 16,400-square-foot substation was built in 1920-21 and is now on the market for $25 million.
De Maria pretty much left the substation’s industrial origins intact and major improvements were confined to overhead lighting to illuminate the spaces where he dreamed up installations like “Bel Air Trilogy”, which he worked on from 2000 to 2011 and was on display, below, at the Menil in Houston. It was bought the Prada Foundation and like his “Broken Kilometer” and “Earth Room” in SoHo, is on display permanently. De Maria has a dozen or so other works on permanent installation in several countries, with the most famous of them perhaps being “The Lightning Field,” a 1977 grid composed of 400 stainless-steel rods implanted in the New Mexico desert, below right.
Elizabeth Childress was his studio director and worked with the artist until his death says, “This building is really the essence of Walter – and he was on a roll when he died, in the middle of a major project with plans for more.” The artist was in Los Angeles to celebrate his mother’s 100th birthday, when he had a stroke and passed away suddenly. On the first floor, whose dimensions are 44 by 80 feet (not including a garage addition in the rear), the space is shared by a main office, Ms. Childress’s office, and the kitchen. Upstairs, the main studio retains a cyclorama left behind by the the former photography studio. The artist’s tiny bedroom and bath are at the back of the third floor, and the fourth is used for storage. From the roof, there are panoramic cityscape views. Oh, what an artist’s dream to live and work in a space like this in downtown Manhattan. I’ll just make due with my 350 square feet on the other side of town. (Sigh)