Dia:Beacon that helps artists achieve visionary projects that might not otherwise be realized because of scale or scope
Under a two hours direct train ride away from the Grand Central Terminal in New York, in an unassuming little town called Beacon north of New York City sits Dia:Beacon. For the enthusiast of modern and contemporary art, this art haven presents work spanning minimalism to abstract expressionism within large warehouse spaces. Dia was founded in New York City in 1974 by Philippa de Menil, Heiner Friedrich and Helen Winkler with an aim to help artists achieve visionary projects that may not have been able to because of scale, scope and financial means. The three founders selected the name “Dia'' which means “through” in Greek, setting in stone and solidifying the institution’s role in enabling the ambitions it set out. In Dia:Beacon, large-scale artworks can find a home for permanent display and visitors can see artworks by artists such as Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain to name a few.
Opened two decades ago in the summer of 2003, Dia:Beacon took over a 292,000 square foot former Nabisco box printing factory originated in 1929. The design and construction process to convert the factory into gallery spaces seen today took four years. Over the course of the upgrade works, unique characteristics of the old factory including the skylights and glazed Crittall windows capable of delivering varying light qualities in each room was a distinctly positive feature that plays a part in the display of three-dimensional artworks. The split level floors also enhance a sense of discovery and provide additional viewpoints to the artworks. Walking down the steps into Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipses sculptures, though the staircase was small and narrow, was an effective way in gaining a birds-eye view of Serra’s artworks before stepping onto the concrete floor to experience his artworks at eye level. This new vantage point before experiencing the wonderful spatial and lighting qualities of Serra’s artworks provides a sense of context plus further appreciation of the scale the artist works in.
The Dia Art Foundation supports spatial needs but also the funding required to allow some of these large artworks to be developed and realised with site specificity. A good example of this is Michael Heizer's North, East, South, West which was recreated by a commission in time for Dia:Beacon's opening in 2003. For artists who find typical gallery spaces restrictive or struggle to work within limited ceiling heights, Dia:Beacon is the opportunity to realise large artworks within close transportation to New York City.
There were two Michael Heizer pieces that added a strong presence within the already wide expanse of warehouse space. The Negative Megalith #5 was created in 1998, and the North, East, South, West which was a gift from the Lannan Foundation to the Dia Art Foundation that arrived in 2003. The artist Heizer first started as a painter but as he began working in three dimensional forms in the 1960s, his work as a sculpture artist focused on nature, archaeology and ecology. Dia:Beacon showcases two of Heizer's most used materials - stone and steel. Within the warehouse setting set within Beacon’s nature, Heizer’s works formed a strong tension, seemingly existing in the location for decades.
As I delved deeper to understand the work, I found out that in 1967, only North and South were produced at 4 feet by 4 feet. Decades later, the Dia Art Foundation commissioned Heizer to recreate the work. This time, Heizer was able to realise the artwork in the design, dimensions and weathering steel instead of painted wood and metal. For afar, they look like endless geometric pits. In the scale where Heizer intended it to be, the full piece of artwork totalled more than 125 feet in length and is also sunken to a depth of 20 feet. Heizer was a pioneer in this scale and in the creation of such volumetric depths. Heizer's works celebrate the absent rather than what is actually present in front of your eyes. This piece truly exemplifies the Dia Art Foundation’s mission to help artists achieve projects that may not have been able to because of scale.
The Dia:Beacon gardens, though only a limited space - the Beacon Project, was opened by artist Robert Irwin. It was fascinating to understand that the artist lived across the Hudson River by Beacon and visited it every day. Irwin describes his process as "I work experientially. I start in the space and walk through it a thousand times, just sort of running my hands over the whole thing." His design welcomes most visitors before entering the main entrance or piques visitors' interest as they are leaving the space. Again, much like Heizer’s work, Irwin’s work also has a sense of belonging - as if it has been there just the way it is for decades.
Apart from the permanent exhibition, Dia:Beacon’s team also updates the temporary exhibitions, as well as public programs to complement the exhibitions and the collection. To visit Dia Beacon, please find details below and note that they are closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.