In late fall last year I found myself in Beacon, NY for a meeting, so before heading back to the Big Apple, I made sure to stop into the Dia: Beacon. Nestled in lovely grounds on the banks of the Hudson River, this former Nabisco box-printing factory’s interior was redesigned by Robert Irwin, and houses their collection of modern art – primarily sculpture that is minimalist, abstract and conceptual – from the 1960’s to the present.
While many of the works are large scale, the spaciousness of the galleries, spread over three levels, allows them to breathe and be shown to their advantage. Even if you’re not a big fan of this type of art, I think you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the craft and (some of) the theory that underpin these works.
Greeting you after the entrance is Walter De Maria’s 360˚ I Ching / 64 Sculptures, 1981 consisting of 576 white-laquered wooden rods on a red carpet, divided into 64 hexagrams, each composed of 3 solid and 3 broken lines, based on permutations of the hexagram found in this ancient Chinese text. Occupying 10,000 sq. ft., it’s a fitting way to begin your exploration of the galleries.
Also on the ground floor you’ll find a series of “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1966, 1968, 1981), Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light structures which reference the Russian Constructivist’s ambition in uniting art and technology, although Flavin’s use of ordinary fluorescent light bulbs which burn out and need replacing, provide an ironic counterpoint to the notion of “monument.”
In the back gallery are Michael Heizer’s North, East, South, West, four geometric pits (together 125 ft. long and 21ft. deep), whose forms – square, cone, triangular trough – are separations of void and solid mass, highlighting negative space. This work, commissioned by Dia, has it’s origins in an outdoor negative sculpture, North, South that Heizer created in 1967. In the next room is Heizer’s Megalith #5, from 1998, a 15ft. high menhir-like stone inscribed in a rectangular space – awe inspiring.
On the opposite side of the building are Richard Serra’s 48 maquettes for Torqued Ellipses – you’ll find the fully realized versions on the lower level. The models are very useful for understanding the various choices – and engineering challenges – facing Serra when he fashioned these huge steel rolls into sculptures which people can walk inside and around. Your sense of perspective and space changes as you walk through each one of them, as they’re all contorted at different angles.
Also on the lower level, in a cavernous, dimly lit space is Dan Flavin’s 1973 work, Untitled (to you Heiner with admiration and affection), whose optical properties and physical dimensions demand appreciation – a row of 4ft. wide modular square green fluorescent lights arranged one behind the other at 2 ft. intervals – creating an optical and physical barrier, while flooding the space with green light which changes with the natural light coming through the windows. I spent a fair amount of time with this work, which is perfect for this space. The piece is dedicated to Heiner Friedrich, Dia’s co-founder.
If you go up to the top floor, you’ll find work by Louise Bourgeois, including her famous 2003 Crouching Spider – very impressive – as well as a number of small works.
Back on the ground floor, be sure to stop at John Chamberlain’s candy-colored painted steel sculptures, which incorporate scrap metal and crushed car parts, and often have a playful feeling to them – the titles are especially whimsical.
There’s a lot more to see – the museum has work by over 20 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin. If you’re looking for a nice day excursion out of the City, you can catch a train at Grand Central that will take you straight up there (get a combo ticket that includes entry to the museum). The town of Beacon is lovely, with many small shops and restaurants.
Dia also has a gallery in Chelsea, as well as site-specific works, in New York City, Utah, Germany and other locations. You can find the list here.
Dia also hosts concerts, readings and lectures – you can find the calendar here.