Yesterday was spectacularly beautiful in New York City. Just a few weeks ago, when the city was dreary and the streets were covered with snow, I needed to remind myself that spring was indeed on its way. So I embarked on an expedition to a SoHo loft filled with moist and fragrant soil.
That’s right. Dirt. It’s also art.
If you need a moment of quiet from the City That Never Sleeps or long for an unusual sensory experience, you should visit the New York Earth Room.
Discover the New York Earth Room
The New York Earth Room is an interior earth sculpture by the artist Walter De Maria. It’s located at 141 Wooster Street, among SoHo’s fancy boutiques and high-end stores.
It feels rebellious to walk down this SoHo block and think, “I’m not here to buy anything. I’m here to look at dirt.”
Maintained by the Dia Art Foundation, the New York Earth Room was installed in 1977. There are 280,000 pounds of soil behind these second-story windows.
When you arrive, you have to buzz in. The Earth Room is free and open Wednesday through Sunday. It is closed in the summer months so curators can maintain the soil.
It’s the quintessential New York experience — you have to climb a narrow stairwell to get to somewhere interesting. There is also an elevator if you need it.
No photography is allowed, by the wishes of the artist. It’s time to put your phone away and prepare to smell rich soil in an unlikely location.
Experience a Strange Sensory Delight
The Earth Room is a 22-inch-deep layer of dirt spread across a 3,600-square-foot loft. There is a small viewing area where you can look out on the expanse.
It’s a good spot to find solitude, slow down, and linger.
It is humid and smells of rich loamy soil. The soil looks textured, fluffy, and raked.
You may find yourself thinking about:
- Real estate
- Nature and man-made nature
- What the smell of soil reminds you of
- What lives inside 40-year-old, 2-foot-deep dirt
- How the artist has passed away but the earth remains
Speak to the Keeper of Earth and Time
If you have questions, you can talk to the caretaker at the front desk, Bill Dilworth. Bill has been the caretaker of the Earth Room since 1989.
He also maintains the old clock in the tower of St. Teresa’s Roman Catholic Church on Henry Street on the Lower East Side.
The New York Times featured an interesting piece about Bill, including the detail that his business card reads “Keeper of Earth and Time.”
For more information about hours or directions, check out Dia’s New York Earth Room website.