Dia:Beacon is New York’s Best Kept Secret

Words: Charlie Newman

An all American cookie and crackers factory deep in the woods along the Hudson river doesn’t entirely sound like the ideal location for a cutting edge art gallery, but neither did a disused power station beside the Thames. Much like the Tate Modern, Dia:Beacon proves us all wrong.

In just 70 minutes you are transported from the concrete jungle of New York city to the sequestered woods of Beacon. You know immediately from the short walk to the station that Dia:Beacon is like no art museum you have visited before.

The sheer size and flood of natural light it inhabits is highly unusual compared to the stereotypical, stuffy, dark museums of earlier years. Nor is it in any way similar to the cold, sterile, floodlit boxes of modern art galleries we are more accustomed to nowadays.

What the exhibiting artists all seem to agree with and relish in is the space itself, and what a joy it is to bask in the full glory of the artists work. Having previously seen Dan Flavin’s work at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea, it had an entirely different feel at Dia:Beacon.

Instead of pondering over it on a wall you literally moved through Flavin’s “architectural intervention”, similarly to Francoise Morellet’s ‘No Ending Neon’ (1990-1997) consisting of 61 neon lit tubes mapped out on the floor.

However the magic was slightly lost in Morellet’s piece; instead of wandering freely as we could with Flavin’s work, a gallery assistant sternly prompted us to follow a direct route incase we tripped on a cable – oh the woes of health and safety.

Artists Richard Serra and Michael Heizer took full advantage of the limitless space. Serra’s enormous ‘Torqued Ellipse’ (2000) was like walking into a dark shell, exploring “ways of relating material and space.” Made of contorted steel, you felt small in comparison to the sheer height and weight of the structure.

Lost in the depth of the dark circle, your location is mislaid, encouraging you to rely on your senses. Serra champions “the idea of the body passing through space, and the body’s movement not being predicted totally on image or sight or optical awareness but on physical awareness in relation to space, place, time, movement.”

Michael Heizer also broke free from the limits of the artist by creating ‘negative sculpture’. In ‘North, South, East, West’ (1967-2002) we cannot see the bottom of the enormous geometric pits dug into the surface of the gallery. As a result, the holes appear finite, persuading us to focus more on the weight of the ground and ourselves rather than on our sight.

In contrast Robert Smithson’s ‘Leaning Mirror’ (1969) directs our eye away from ourselves and onto the gallery.

Bruce Nauman’s used a more sinister approach to the space. It felt like a nightmarish house of fun as we watched ‘Mapping the studio 1 (Fat Chance John Cage)’ 6 hours of footage on the artists struggle as well as his neon lit ‘Hanged Man’ (1985), a seemingly simple childish game is transformed into something darker.

We watched the drawing unfold, step by step, but the shock arises when he is hung and gets an erection.

Louise Bourgeois’s work lies parallel to Nauman’s artists struggle. She believes that “Every day, you either have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor.”

The contrast of organic subject matter versus inorganic materials, and her playing with size (who can forget her terrifying ‘Crouching Spider’ 2003, echoing scenes of J.K.Rowling’s Forbidden Forest in ‘Harry Potter’ – not sure she’d be all too keen on that comparison!) you feel as though you’re walking into a nightmare.

It’s difficult to look at, difficult to stand beside, but Bourgeois challenges us with “forms that translate experiences”, stimulating a cathartic response.

Despite the sometimes intense conceptual matter, Dia:Beacon is a place to relax and enjoy. Never hurried for time or crammed with tourists, I urge you to find the time to escape the madness of the city and revel in the luxury of space.

Be sure to check out their website here.