Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dia: Beacon - thought-provoking exhibit...

Last Thursday, fellow Shijin Robin Sampson, White Plains Slammer Ann Marie Marra and I visted the DIA museum in Beacon New York (a snapshot of its website is to the left), which opened in 2003 in a 300,000 square foot printing factory.  We got separated in this large maze-like building and I didn't see them for two hours.

I was constantly surprised - each time I thought I had reached the end of the exhibits, there was a still a large part of the building I had not visited!   Better, each time I thought I had drawn a bead on the meaning of what was exhibited, another twist was revealed.

The first room featured an exhibit of  minimalist work "24 Colors for Blinky" by Imi Koebel - large odd shapes each painted in a single bright color.  They were not at all like the monochrome canvases of Modrian  which contain subtle, though barely discernible, complexities. Koebel's colors are utterly flat and uniform.  Just shapes varied wildly. Imi may well have been trying to "shape-up" Blinky Palermo whose small and uniformly square works were on display in another room.  Another room had works by Agnes Martin whose canvases were more in the actual lineage of Modrian, but with a much more personal touched-surface  feeling....

Then there was an entire warehouse-sized room of light work by Dan Flavin. I mean, a kind of minimalist work created entirely as arrangements or "monuments" of florescent light fixtures. I didn't really get off on these, though they were interesting.  On the lower floor were a several works that were a kind of minimalist drawing  and the medium was vivid  blinking neon lights .

And then there was a room entirely containing abstract expressionist sculptures by John Chamberlain that looked as if, and I think were actually made from junk cars and scrap metal. I liked several that were imposing crumpled metal cairns each cloistering a small brightly color nucleus.  But My favorite work of the day was The Privet - one of his metal  sculptures. (The photo simply does not do it justice...)  It is a bit of an abstract expressionist hedge - of metal strips painted capreciously with high gloss enamel. It's metal fronds twisted organically, and each with a unique color scheme. The form was so familiar, the material and colors, arresting. I was inspired to write a poem, though it has a miserable slant rhyme.

The privet's metal stalks aspire
To rustle 'neath the critc's pire
In colors crisp with high gloss shallac
The metal hedge row with varied palette 

Louise Bourgeois' mythic Spiders inspire primal fear, I think and awe.... One can walk right up to the monster which is sci-fi man-eating sized!

Another area I adore, was a set of architectural scale works by Michael Heizer - that involved enormous holes in the floor, I liked the effects, and as a bonus the polished concrete floors in that area were so beautifully and intricately marked, each of the huge sections could have been hung on the wall as art....

Another area I enjoyed very very much contained huge iron spirals "Torqued Elipses" by Richard Serra like the hulls of mysterious ships or giant vats in a factory, that were 15 feet tall with walls several inches. You could walk inside the huge spirals and sometimes, there were hidden inner chambers.  Their juxtaposition also made a very pleasing view of differing angles. There was an erie sonority to the pieces as well. I tried singing inside of one and the echos were amazing.

Interpretive verses generative art
One of the most fascinating aspects of the artists on display were the many who had not constructed the piece on view, but who had left a set of instructions as an architect leaves blueprints, or actually the very same way a composer writes a a score and then leaves it to the future - for others to bring to life!

There was one Lawrence Weiner who had left large sized instructions for the construction of arrangements of monolithic stones. One huge obelisk-like monolith was recessed into the wall. There was an exhibit of drawings by Sol LeWitt (who had recently died). The work required  a team of 20 artists to draw patterns of six different basic squares.  Each looked like a geeks creation on graph paper. The squares were drawn in combination, juxtaposition and super-imposition  in pencil right on the four walls of a museum room. It sounds so prosaic but the effect was sort of  contrary to that. Inside four twenty-foot walls all covered with this work, well the effect was strangely imposing and the repetition made it comforting and  tranquil. It had a great quiet dignity.

The presence of a whole room of Andy Warhol canvases gives real weight to the idea of art by collaboration rather than by one hand.  So much of the art in this exhibit was  what I would call Art Divisi - that is art divided into inceptor or "Idea-ator" and executor. Or more completely - as in music - the generative artist and the interpretive artist. As in theater or in the performance arts, this allows subsequent generations to add cultural nuance...

Could an artist devise a handmade drawing or painting of so many layers that generations of interpretors would be required to fulfill the design? One thinks of the great cathedrsls ( one was still unfinished when I was in college. Not sure now)

And on the topic of great catherdrals - the Photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher were of wonders of another sort - the great detailed twisting industrial cathedrals of European industry of an era past.

It's a great exhibit. They also have a fine coffee shop for lunch and a fabulous book store. Check the museum's website at

While we were in Beacon, we also visited the Muddy Cup for Lavendar Tea....

-- Mar Walker