Having lived many years in New York City, I am
accustomed to the visual challenges that this metropolis is constantly
offering. Modern art museums, in particular, have competed to offer the
greatest impression on the visitor, by proposing ever-different environments
for their exhibits. One of these settings is the partially restructured,
antiquated factory. It appeared at first as a variation of the artists’ studios
that had blossomed in the lofts derived by dismantled plants. The Minimalist
movement, specifically, welcomed it because of its large spaces and unusual
To create a larger adaptation of these galleries or
museums in a country setting seemed almost an unrealizable project. After all,
who would spend over an hour of train to reach a museum that copycats, even if
at a larger scale, the preexisting ones of Manhattan? The creators of this new
temple of the arts had something else in mind, though.
Arriving in Beacon, a marginal,
sleepy town approximately 63 miles from midtown Manhattan, you would expect to
find the seclusion that one strives for when visiting such areas. The vast open
spaces of the Dia:Beacon Riggio
Galleries, 240,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, could not be
considered crowded unless an army of invaders would decide it to make it its
primary target. Somehow, though, it is atypical, almost bizarre, that the
sensation of visiting a NYC museum was in essence recreated in this outlying
village, together with the uninterrupted flow of visitors of all ages.
The entry is impressive. A small,
darker atrium leads to a vast series of galleries, brightly illuminated by a
myriad of skylights, The first room visible is empty, but for a cycle of
sculptures by the famed artist Walter De Maria. A twosome formed by a square
and a circle having the same areas and raising above the floor only a couple of
centimeters or so, is replicated six times, each times in a slightly diminished
size from the precedent, placing it at a distance equivalent to the sum of the
previous two sculptures. The effect that these sculptures would like to obtain
on the visitors would be of a gentle visual distortion. What really ensues is
that this room appears gargantuan in its deceptive emptiness.
After such a jolt, no surprise should be possible. Even
in this, though, I had to amend my thoughts. As an art critic who, as a rule,
spurned the Minimalism movement and its works, I can assure you that my
experience with these generally uncluttered areas was inspiring and mortifying
at the same time.
Placed in the spatial context they deserved, these
artistic creations finally seem to express the inspired emotions of their
creators. Not anymore constrained in the narrow accommodations of the urban
galleries, some of the works project a sculptural implication that could not be
evaluated previously. They have a deliberate, cathartic impact on the
disinclined admirer, producing visual alterations that range from the inability
to calculate distance to full blast optical illusions. In one case, where the
walls of a sculpture (Torqued Ellipse II,
by Richard Serra) appear to collapse on the daring visitor who entered its
realm, disorientation is the most probable outcome. Some, unfortunately, retain
their somber lack of esthetics, typical of the Minimalists.
The genius behind the conception of
the Dia:Beacon is not so much in
having chosen a well-balanced array of artists, but in having allowed, for the
most part, an ample breathing space around the artworks, which generates a
response of its own. The observer is therefore absorbed as much by the
apparently neutral surroundings as he or she is by the works. The artistic
production, more often than not, integrates itself with the locale, producing a
thoroughly studied, desirable ambiance. Just as the proper frame emphasizes the
chromatic equilibrium of a painting masterpiece, the appropriate balance
between the lighting, whether it is natural or artificial, and the quarters in
which the artwork is located, decides toward the likelihood of being recognized
as the artist desired. Most of the works present in this original museum find a
suitable environment and convince the viewer that proportions and textures may
be filtered in many different ways and, therefore, beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder.
What I find odd is that an artist
can produce such dissimilar works, in terms of quality and esthetics, that one
may not recognize the artifacts as originating from the same person. Richard
Serra, for example, offers magnificent, colossal, contorted sculptures, which
are reminiscent of abstract art in spite of the seeming simplicity of their
geometrical forms. In the next rooms, the visitors look upon his other “art”
with a puzzled expression and leave almost in disappointment. If the artist
intended to portray a room after some careless contractor’s visit, he
definitely achieved it. The problem with it, and for that matter also with the
works by Robert Smithson and Imi Knoebel, is that the installers decide the
position of the components to their liking. Notwithstanding the disputable
validity of the composition, no accurate replication of the original project
may be obtained. Is the artist really the author? They seem to be more ideas,
concepts, rather than artistic creations. Interesting, yes, even original, but
somehow more aimed at being a challenge to the accepted art canons than
becoming an artwork themselves.
Another artist who offers works of
very different significance is the abstract sculptor John Chamberlain,
legendary for his utilization of crushed automobile parts. Although most of his
sculptures have a solid, well-balanced effect on the onlooker, some fade in an
undesirable anonymity, even in such a marvelous setting.
When visiting the area purportedly
dedicated to the composition “North, East, South, West”, by Michael
Heizer, a very awkward situation arises due to the presence of protective
plastic barriers, conveniently placed at a distance. In all honesty, the
disappointment of not being able to perceive the 20-feet depth of the gigantic,
geometrically shaped craters, or displacements as cited by the catalogue, is
balanced by the awareness of the possibility of injury, in the event of too
close a proximity to their edges. Still, the desire to witness such an
original, though not unique, artwork is strangely compelling for someone who,
until few hours before, had the conviction that art needed to follow certain
guidelines and that this artistic movement did not meet them. When they chose
the name Dia (Greek for “through”),
the founders, Philippa de Menil and Heiner Friedrich, definitely had in mind
people’s reactions to these presentations.
Andy Warhol’s single work,
originally composed by 102 individual canvases with the same enigmatic images,
colored in varied shades and tonalities, is restricted slightly in number by
the wall space availability (really!), but even so it conveys an unmistakable
message of solidity in its chromatic variations of the duplicating images. Even
Warhol, in a sporadic, noncommercial urge, described it as simply “a photo of a
shadow in my studio”. Positively a decorative, pleasing and convincingly Pop
Art work, Warhol’s compositional elements differ quite clearly, as does the
work by Blinky Palermo, from the remaining exhibited artists because of the
dazzling use of the colors.
The works by Agnes Martin and Robert
Ryman, though not necessarily for their choice of subjects, are very brilliant.
The brilliance lays in their use of white and off white tints in an
all-embracing distinction from the white walls. While Martin attempts to
justify her work by filtering shades and gentle lines across her paintings,
Ryman tries instead to define its work by the existence of a wood border to the
underlying canvas’ structure! This
artistic pretense undoubtedly defies even the most genuine gullibility. All I
can surmise is that most viewers will not be sophisticated enough to understand
the “contrast” of white on white.
In a separate gallery, upstairs, one
can find various works by Louise Bourgeois. This very active and creative
nonagenarian is more of a surrealist than a minimalist. Her best work, Spider, a five-meter tall metal
sculpture, is located purposely in a dimly lit section, offering the full power
of its gloom. Her other works range in media from a tenebrous marble to a
shimmering brass and are produced with an intellectual coherence that only an
artist of her caliber may possess. On the other hand, her evident obsession
with phallic symbols seems to illustrate a possible trauma from her early
years. You can also capture the unresolved issues with her father’s
authoritative manners in one particular work, “The Destruction of the Father”. Don’t expect to come away unscarred
from this viewing experience.
Bruce Nauman's installations occupy
the lower level, a shadowy, open area. The fascinating experience of pacing
through his works is vaguely evocative of a visit to a science museum, where
the interactive displays often defy human perception.
Hanne Darboven’s monumental Kulturgeschicte 1880-1983, with all the respect that a
work of this dimension deserves, if anything at least for the effort, is more
of an illustrative project than an artwork. The impact of viewing 1,590 framed
sheets pasted orderly, one after the other, in a compulsive filling of every
little inch of wall, is a visual occurrence to be experienced. Stamp collectors
will appreciate it even more for its daunting similarity to a “collecting
album” page assortment.
The appealing formations of colorful
lengths of yarns by Fred Sandback are impressive because of their ethereal
qualities. They are lines of inconsistencies defining geometrical nonentities,
surrounding and penetrating the spaces in an everlasting sensation of serenity.
It is such a shame that the artist took his life on June 23rd of
this year. He surely will be missed.
I have to confess that the works of
Weiner and Kawara did not particularly impress me. There may be a factual
meaning to words representation, but where is the individuality of the art
piece? Do they constitute eccentricity or talent? I opt for the former.
Bernd And Hilla Becher's photographic record of
industrial architecture is attention grabbing and rational in its aseptic
approach. Joseph Beuyes’ photographs are more intimate and significant in the
emotional bearing on the viewer.
Sol LeWitt’s opus is suggestive of abstract
expressionists’ early works, with a twist toward linearity and a rebuttal of
any chromatic experimentation.
Gerard Richter’s site-specific work
consists of six four-meter-square dark mirrors, hanging obliquely from the
walls. They offer a complex of reflections that bestow a distinct, dreamy
character to the room.
Although celebrated in his times,
Dan Flavin seems to have created pleasant compositions with commercial
fluorescent tubes that would be more appreciated as front windows’ compositions
for an upscale department store than artistic, identifiable and inimitable
pieces. The effect on the visitor, though, because of the spatial context into
which it is inserted, is mesmerizing and worth the visit.
has launched an educational program in September 2003 with Beacon’s Rombout
Middle School, combining writing and personal expression with visits to the
Riggio Galleries, focusing on “learning to look”. I am certain that this
program will be more than successful. The only objection to the visits of such
young students is the risk of possible “accidents” in the areas occupied by
Robert Smithson’s works, where the media and the positioning of such works is
an open invitation to a dare.
Dia:Beacon Riggio Galleries is
undeniably the artistic equivalent of a theme park, with an emphasis on
luminosity, visual expansion and spatial methodology that allows the interested
visitor to appreciate artwork that normally he would neither view nor be
is a museum for Dia Art Foundation’s renowned but rarely seen permanent
collection of art from the1960s to the present
on May 18, 2003, the museum is located in an historic steel, concrete and
glass industrial building, designed by Nabisco’s staff architect Louis
N. Wirshing. Its most recent
owner, International Paper, donated the structure to Dia Art Foundation in
1999. Leonard Riggio,
founder of Barnes & Noble, and his wife Louise, after whom the
galleries are named, made possible the founding of this museum through
their philanthropy. Dia:Beacon Riggio Galleries is a five-minute walk from
the MetroNorth train station
the prospective visitor that is not familiar with this type of
installations, mostly minimalist, conceptual and abstract, it is suggested
to visit the Dia:Beacon web site before visiting the museum (www.diabeacon.org).