Aug 11, 2010

dia beacon

last weekend, we drove westward into upstate new york to visit dia beacon. the drive, google maps tells us, takes 3h 22m. on I-84, we saw a sign for "FREE SNAX" that aroused some interest. a few hundred feet later, another sign for "FREE DRINX." we took the next exit just as we saw the third sign: "NEXT EXIT." it turned out to be a troop of boy scouts with coffee and doughnuts from dunkin' donuts. from a distance, we inferred that they would give these items away but make meaningful motions towards the donation jar while doing so. we hit the road again.

dia beacon is on the eastern bank of the hudson river. if you seek the fabled alexis diner that is close to beacon, know this: google maps will lead you not to alexis but into the parking lot of a hotel and conference center nestled into the woods. here, you will discover that the diner you seek is in newburgh, 30 minutes away and on the opposite bank.

from the parking lot, dia beacon looks trivially small. an old box-printing factory skinned in dark brick, one storey tall, barely a city block wide. entering the gallery, it becomes obvious that dia beacon is actually quite a bit larger on the inside than it looks on the outside. when you notice the sub-level containing a series of huge serra steel sculptures hulking in the half-gloom, you realise that dia beacon is, in fact, enormous.

the main galleries have glazed concrete floors, ceilings of frosted glass panes angled at 45 degrees, and are painted a neutral white. on a sunny day, light pours in from the ceiling and the main galleries are full to overflowing with a soft but powerful light. doubtless one of the best installation spaces i've been in.

the best things there:

  • silver meters and gold meters by walter de maria. two series of steel plates with increasing numbers of silver and gold discs embedded in them, where the total mass of precious metal is the same in each plate. serious bankroll art, though the fabrication was interestingly variable. the steel plates were drilled out, the discs placed, and then polished down. imagine the serenity and glacial perfection had each sheet been polished down as a whole rather than spot polished where the discs were placed. (they were not.)
  • three torqued spirals and a torqued ellipse by richard serra. i saw the serra retrospective five years ago at moma, crowded in with hundreds of other people, and have been seeking his pieces out since. standing under a leaning plane of rusting steel, or inside the narrowing and widening spaces inside the torqued spirals, the overwhelming sensation is of being under a large looming mass, or between two massive bodies. it's the essence of cliff and valley. the beacon installation puts them in a dimly-lit but cavernous room where they seem even more massive.
  • one little john chamberlain piece that had no title but was the smallest of all the pieces on long term view. blue with cream and chrome, it was happy and light and just right. the others were neat, this one was perfect.
  • north, east, south, west, by michael heizer. these four large negative spaces lined with weathering steel seem infinitely deep and also infinitely massively empty. essence of void. they make me want to go see the original double negative out in nevada.
  • a slew of fred sandback yarn installations. these were, in their own way, the most amazing of the pieces at beacon. where a serra creates a sense of mass with a massive, space-filling piece, the sandback pieces slice up space using nothing but pieces of coloured yarn that define the edges of planes. there is such economy in the understanding of how we perceive space and planes that words fail. you have to see it for yourself. i saw my first sandback installation in munich, a single pair of pink yarn verticals at the pinakothek der moderne and that was neat, but the beacon collection is bemusingly vast by comparison.
no photos. nothing i have does this space justice.

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