I couldn’t tell you how to get to Beacon, New York. I was asleep for much of the two-hour journey, waking only to find myself driving through the charming town on my way to the Dia Foundation’s warehouse. Dia:Beacon is housed in an old Nabisco factory, but the workers — they’re the ones in all black — will be quick to inform you that it’s where the packaging was made, not the cookies. Bummer.
Not that you’ll find assembly lines or heavy machinery in the vast warehouse nowadays (which, by the way, would be an awesome place to hold a party). Instead, the building is home to a collection of contemporary art belonging to the Dia Foundation, a New York City-based arts group that funds and collects art from the 1960s to the present.
Here are some of the highlights:
White Paintings by Robert Ryman.
Back in 1918, Kasimir Malevich scandalized the art world with his painting, “White on White,” now located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Motzkin family lore says that when I visited the museum on a family vacation circa 1999, I informed my parents that the painter “forgot to color his picture.” Oh, 9-year-old self, you were so cute and so insightful. In the ’60s, Robert Ryman takes the “white” theme to a whole new level. In a series of small, square paintings, he explores different shades of white that are reminiscent of enlarged paint samples from Home Depot. There’s one piece that’s a large sheet of white paper bolted to the wall as though the space were simply a monochromatic bulletin board. Another, called Varese Wall, is a free-standing white wall situated two feet in front of the white wall of the building. Even though they’re the same color, light and shadow create contrast between the surfaces. Visitors are discouraged from walking between the walls — at least according to the statuesque security guard.
Wall drawings by Sol LeWitt.
Don’t even get me started on conceptual art. The artist thinks of the idea and then someone else draws it — but only if they have a contract and you can transfer the contract but then you have to erase the original drawing and it doesn’t really count if you just follow the instructions without having paid for them but it kind of does because it’s just an idea in the artist’s mind and that’s the art. Anyway. I find Sol LeWitt wall drawings to be overwhelming and confusing when seen one at a time. I tend to over-think them, get lost in the lines, get lost in the whole idea, but that’s what I like about them. There are two in the Yale University Art Gallery lobby (one is obvious, one is not — bonus points to whoever can find them both!). There are 14 at Dia, and all within about 100 square feet of each other. Cue U2’s “Vertigo.”
String Art by Fred Sandback.
I’m going to warn you now: this shit will blow your mind. It’s a piece of yarn that hangs from the ceiling to the floor, runs about a foot across the ground, and then goes back up to the ceiling. That’s it — or is it? The art is not just the string, my tour guide explained, it’s the space within the string. “He’s working with how we create and delineate space.” Um, thanks?
But it’s true. It feels wrong to stick your hand between the threads because there’s a different, palpable quality to the air within the art. With his larger pieces — and yes there are larger pieces that stretch across entire rooms — it’s the strangest thing to walk over the yarn, effectively breaking the barrier between art and viewer. But at the same time, it’s just yarn and it’s just air. Talk about a mindfuck.
While you’re there, see if you can spot Richard Serra’s “Torqued Ellipses,” giant sculptures you can sit inside, these Louise Bourgeois hanging pieces that look like flying croissants, and 102 technicolored Warhol silk screens from the “Shadows” series hung along the walls of a yawning space (this room is where I would have my party).
There are plenty of pieces that make me skeptical of their true artistic value: strange video clips, lumpy statues, found art. To be totally honest, I’m still largely confused by most contemporary art. And now that you can’t visit the other Dia gallery in New York City, you should go to Dia:Beacon.
Go … and take me with you please! I’ll even pay for your ticket if you give me a ride.