Walter De Maria, American, 1935 - 2013
The Statement Series: Yellow Painting / The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth, 1968
Oil on canvas with stainless steel plate
82 5/8 × 238 in. (209.9 × 604.5 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by the Mary Kathryn Lynch Kurtz Charitable Lead Trust

© The Estate of Walter De Maria
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The year 1968 was a fundamental one for the modern land art movement. Its major proponents—Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, and Robert Smithson in the United States and Richard Long in England—were each in the process of creating major works, and De Maria’s gallery installation The Land Show at Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich became the first exhibition of land art in Europe. Equally important was the opening of the Dwan Gallery’s group exhibition Earth Works in New York City, which brought the burgeoning movement into the public consciousness.


Yellow Painting/THE COLOR MEN CHOOSE WHEN THEY ATTACK THE EARTH,1  was created specifically for that pivotal exhibition. Because De Maria was out of the country at the time, the artist could not complete its fabrication himself.2 Instead he asked Heizer, a fellow participant in Earth Works, to construct the piece, specifying that the yellow should match the exuberant color used by earthmoving construction equipment companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere. The large, nearly seven by twenty feet,3 monochrome painting stood out dramatically among the earth-toned sculpture and documentary photographs.4 The only work to be sold during the exhibition, Yellow Painting was purchased by New York City’s Robert C. Scull, an early supporter of Pop art and Minimalism. Noted Greek collector Dakis Joannou bought the painting from Scull’s estate in 1986, and in 2006 the Menil Collection acquired the work.


The five by twenty-four inch stainless steel plate affixed to the center of the painting is engraved with its titular phrase, “The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth,” referring to the source of the painting’s color. The small letters cannot be read from afar,5 enticing the viewer to move closer, to read the words as the highly polished surface reflects his or her face. By including the engraved text, De Maria inserts an environmental message into the language of Hard-edge abstraction, typically a purely formalist endeavor. The presence of this statement within an exhibition of artworks created by employing the referenced earthmoving machinery introduced another degree of complexity. In the course of planning his 2011 exhibition Walter De Maria: Trilogies at the Menil Collection, the artist saw Yellow Painting hanging on the south wall of the museum’s foyer, where it has frequently been installed since its purchase, and was inspired to expand upon the work. Leaving Yellow Painting in its central position, De Maria created Red Painting /NO WAR NO and Blue Painting /YES PEACE YES for display on the east and west walls of the lobby, respectively, to form the Statement Series.


Clare Elliott, Walter De Maria: Trilogies (2011)



1. Originally titled The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth, the painting was renamed Yellow Painting/ THE COLOR MEN CHOOSE WHEN THEY ATTACK THE EARTH in 2011.

2. The artist was installing the Munich Earth Room in Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich.

3. The exact dimensions of the piece are 7 feet by 19 feet 10 inches (2.1 x 6 m).

4. Though De Maria took over gallery space with his earth rooms, he has never exhibited or sold proposals or photographs of his land art.

5. The letters are a 1/4-inch–1/2-inch tall.