The second in our series on meditative art – Glass profiles Walter De Maria’s Large Red Sphere at the Türkentor

GLASS presents the second in our online series on meditative art installations from across the world.

The Türkentor in Munich is a neoclassical gatehouse in grounds that were formerly the Prinz-Arnulf barracks. The barracks (which were notorious for housing Adolf Hitler during the First World War) were constructed in the early 19th century, bombed during the Second World War, then all but demolished in the 1970s.

As the surrounding land was developed into museums, the gatehouse remained on site, wedged between the Pinakothek der Moderne and the Museum Brandhorst. Having sat empty for decades, in 2010 the building was redeveloped by architects Sauerbruch Hutton to house a single monumental artwork by Walter De Maria from 2002: Large Red Sphere.

Türkentor Kunstareal München. Photo: Haydar Koyupinar. © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Upon entering the Türkentor, visitors are confronted by a polished red granite sphere measuring 260 cm in diameter. The work sits on a circular three-step plinth flanked by columns. Lit solely by natural light which enters through the space’s skylight, its geometric form and unexpected placement suggest a hermetic structure or planetary mass. The sphere has been used by philosophers and artists throughout history as a symbol of equality (with every point of its surface equidistant from its centre), the ideal (through the form’s absolute symmetry) and the infinite (being the structure of an atom).

Close to 25 tonnes of granite was used by De Maria to produce Large Red Sphere. Despite its scale and weight, the work’s highly polished surface and seemingly effortless placement within the space achieves an impression of lightness which is enhanced by the sphere’s reflective finish which mirrors the sky.

Walter De Maria, Large Red Sphere, 2010. Photo: Haydar Koyupinar, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.
© Estate of Walter De Maria

It was in 1990 that De Maria, a New York-based artist known for his compositions using geometric form, began to create works out of large stone spheres. The first was destined for the courtyard of the Assemblée Nationale in Paris; this was followed in 2000 and 2004 by works for two museums on the island of Naoshima in Japan.

The installation of Large Red Sphere (2002) at the Türkentor in 2010 continued the artist’s ‘one room – one work’ trajectory which had begun in 1968 with the Earth Room in Heiner Friedrich’s gallery in Munich. The opening of De Maria’s ambitious installation in the Türkentor over four decades later – and just three years before the artist’s death in 2013 – has been viewed by many as a homecoming of sorts.

The positioning of Large Red Sphere in a relatively tight cuboidal space so loaded with military history differentiates this installation from the majority of De Maria’s works, which tend to make use of open, lateral spaces. The artist made the decision to present the sculpture on a low plinth which – unlike De Maria’s installations in Naoshima (where the spheres were placed on the ground or at the top of a flight of stairs) – was conceived to raise the centre of the work to eye level. When viewing the sphere in certain light conditions, visitors find that they stare back at reflections of themselves. Read thus, Large Red Sphere may be interpreted as a metaphorical and actual mirror of both individual and society.

Walter De Maria, Large Red Sphere, 2010. Photo: Haydar Koyupinar, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.
© Estate of Walter De Maria

Walter De Maria is quoted to have said that “every good work should have at least ten meanings”. For visitors who are aware of the history of the site, Large Red Sphere may be read as a war memorial. Yet to the unknowing visitor, the work appears to exist outside of specifics of time. Of the installation process, architect Matthias Sauerbruch has said, “placing the sphere was quite an operation … we had to lower the work through the roof. As the sphere is 260cm in diameter, you can imagine how precise the installation had to be. But as it came down, it dropped the last inch! The vibration shook the whole building.” Taking the illusion of Large Red Sphere landing in the Türkentor like a planetary mass, it seems fitting to end on one of the few statements that De Maria gave during his lifetime: “I like natural disasters and I think that they may be the highest form of art possible to experience.”

by Rowena Chiu

Walter De Maria’s Large Red Sphere at the Türkentor is part of the Munich Kunstareal