Art Trip Up the River: A Visit to Dia:Beacon

As an art destination, Dia:Beacon has long been on my to-do list. Ever since the museum’s opening in May 2003, I've wanted to travel up the Hudson River to Beacon, New York to check out this factory repurposed for art. Housed in a former Nabisco printing plant, the museum's vast interior is known for providing the needed light, space, and air for the Dia Art Foundation's unsurpassed art collection. For whatever reasons, I've delayed going, but recent in-town visits to see the work of Dan Flavin at The Morgan (see previous post) and John Chamberlain at the Guggenheim made me want to see more of their work. So finally, this past Sunday, a particularly bright day of clear blue skies and cool temperatures, I made the trip.

walking to Dia:Beacon

A visit to Dia:Bacon is not only easier than I imagined but also more affordable. The train ride lasts about an hour and twenty minutes, though seemingly faster while gazing at the famous Hudson River Valley landscapes along the way. As one of several One-Day Getaway packages offered by MTA, visitors can buy a special ticket for a discounted round-trip train trip to Beacon plus a discounted admission ticket to the museum. From Grand Central, the package currently costs $31.50. Considering that MoMA now charges $25 a visit, this art trip up the Hudson seems affordable, especially when you toss in the splendid river views and the cheap thrill of being out of town.

outdoor landscaping by artist Robert Irwin. View toward Hudson River.

The walk from the train station in Beacon to Dia is a short one, as indicated on the map below, but a shuttle can also provide transportation for a couple of dollars. The real walking begins inside the building. Before even seeing art, it takes time to adjust to the feeling of the space, with its soaring high-beamed ceilings and skylights. It's uncommon to experience such deep vanishing points in interior museums, especially in the long side galleries housing the Flavin and Chamberlain works, spaces the size of football fields. Flavin's "monuments" for V. Tatlin series, various dates (1964-1981), his well-known fluorescent light series inspired by Tatlin's unrealized Monument to the Third International (1920), work ingeniously in this space.*  Mounted on angled floor panels and well lit by natural light, the fluorescent light bulbs look utilitarian and industrial, their mundane materiality much more apparent than in a museum. Yet, of course, one becomes well aware of Flavin's brilliant inventiveness, of his art.

As with Flavin's fluorescents, the materiality of John Chamberlain's works - parts of cars - also shine in the context of a former factory. While the current retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum presents a representative sample of the late artist's expressionist multi-candy-colored collage sculptures, the car parts of which they are made look different here than in Wright's museum. At Beacon, they have room to breathe, like the result of an artful prankster in a giant auto body repair shop. The floors are cleaner than your mechanic's, though they still sport a texture and sheen that makes them comfortable for walking. Other than a longer and complicated trip to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, Dia:Beacon affords the most light-filled space to view Chamberlain's works.

exterior, west side
So much more to share - among them, sitting on a bench and looking at smoky-shaded reflections in Gerhard Richter's Six Gray Mirrors No. 884/1-6, 2003; following the lines of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings; comparing early and late paintings by Agnes Martin; and exploring the brick-lined attic filled with works by Louise Bourgeois, especially walking under the insect legs of Crouching Spider (2003). Be sure to step outside the museum to the west garden to hear Louise Lawler's Birdcalls (1972/1981). In the work, Lawler chirps and mimics the names of established male artists in the art world. I would imagine this would be an especially delightful experience when the trees bloom in the garden in the springtime.

In addition to the permanent works on display, look for special exhibitions. Fans of time-based media must see Circa 1971: Early Video & Film from the EAI Archive, a selection of video and film works by members of the Electronic Arts Intermix. The works are installed in appropriately darkened spaces downstairs. A big current draw to Dia:Beacon are the dance performances by choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. The final performances take place Sunday, March 13, 2012.

A visit to Dia:Beacon may also be in order to establish a frame of reference for two major exhibitions currently on view in the city - the New Museum's Triennial of work by young artists (read review) and the Whitney Biennial, opening March 1. After Dia: Beacon, the artwork in these surveys will either seem fresh or derivative or, at least, highly indebted to an earlier generation. In the Whitney Biennial, for example, one artist has camped out to live and work in the museum. In Beacon, visitors will see installed elements of the famous 1974 gallery live-in by Joseph Beuys - I like America and America likes Me. The artist's iconic felt hat hangs on the wall, a reminder of his enormous influence on the practices of contemporary art. All that's missing is Beuys himself and the wild coyote with whom he shared the space.

More information:

MTA One-Day Getaway packages

Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries
3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY 12508
(845) 440-0100 www.diaart.org

Friday–Monday 11 am–4 pm

Thursday–Monday 11 am–6 pm

View Walk to Dia:Beacon in a larger map

* In the city, check out the marquee for the SVA Theatre on W. 23rd Street. Milton Glaser's design is also inspired by the Tatlin monument. More in this post.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. Sunday, February 26, 2012.

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