I’m a fan of the Dia. I support them, even when I don’t like what they do. They want art to be presented right, and taken care of—especially art that isn’t flashy, sexy or in vogue. They believe in showing a lot of examples of work by an artist, so the viewer can draw his or her own conclusions. They favor quietness. How can I not love them?
So I expected Dia: Beacon to be a sort of minimalist/conceptualist paradise. It is and it isn’t. The approach, the grounds are lovely, and polemically non-monumental. You hardly notice you’ve arrived anywhere.
The galleries are a mixed bag. There are conspicuous successes:
- Richard Serra’s Union of the Torus and the Sphere (2001) is the showstopper, but I preferred Consequence (2003), with the lower half of one wall in black facing an identical wall with the upper half black.
- One of the unqualified delights of the place isn’t visual at all: a Max Neuhaus organ drone rumbles through the building for a few minutes every hour.
- Blinky Palermo’s Times of the Day II (1975) confirmed my suspicion that he was one of the supreme abstract painters. Matisse cut-outs meet Ulm design, plus irony and pathos.
- The suite of rooms devoted to Agnes Martin were perfect presentations of perfect paintings. There was a multi-part series presented whole (Innocent Love 1-8, from 1999), and two other rooms with paintings from the 1950s to the 2000s.
- There were several rooms devoted to LeWitt wall drawings. Both black and white (#1085) and color (#1211) of lines in four directions. It’s a vision of cosmological order. The #136: Arcs and lines / two lines crossing (1972) is in a different mood altogether: a Bacchinal celebrating the marriage of Matisse’s Memories of Oceania and a trig textbook diagram!
- There was a beautiful room of On Kawara date paintings. I don’t know how he did it, but these things get to me.
- The basement provided a perfect space for media works, the best of which was Bruce Nauman’s Neon Templates of the Left Half of My Body Taken at Ten Inch Intervals (1966). They also had a room in which they were projecting his Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001), which had a nice sickly emerald glow. I watched a mouse dash around for a bit, and moved on.
- Michael Heizer might be the main beneficiary of the Beacon. I’ve always been on the fence about his work, and the big rock at LACMA annoys me, but here his North South East West (1967/2002) looked grand rather than grandiloquent.
There were places where the presentation was actually better than the work:
- One flank of the perimeter was devoted to John Chamberlain sculptures. They looked magnificent. They glowed in the daylight. But I had a suspicion that the perfection of the setting oversold the work. Chamberlain can be terrific, but I don’t know that any of the pieces on view were that great.
- Louise Bourgeois gets a creepy attic all to herself. The installation is so fantastic that you almost miss the fact that other than a few items none of the work is first-rate. The big spider lurking in the back turns out to be merely a minor one.
Then there are the almost great spaces. Artists that I tend to like, but the presentation didn’t work. Most important was the Dan Flavin gallery, with dozens of fluorescent light installations. It should have been heaven, but they were displayed along the other flank of the perimeter, next to a wall of windows. His work never looks right in daylight, so why was it here? Why weren’t they in the basement, which seemed the perfect space for them?
Elsewhere there was a sprawling pile of lumber from Beuys, some scary glass-and-mirror Smithsons. Appropriate for the building and locale, there was a suite of Becher photographs of industrial building. But individual, large format images, not typologies; I was disappointed.
The Dia, bless its heart, has taken under its wing several artists I don’t get. Would the ideal viewing situation provided at Beacon change my mind? I’m afraid not: The Robert Rymans remained inert white squares, as always. The Donald Judds, even here, were to me just more bins. Fred Sandback’s yarn should be put to some better use.
The special exhibit was a Carl Andre retrospective. Of course it was well done, everything given just the right amount of space, but the installation didn’t do the work justice. The planks and logs desperately need daylight to come alive. Under artificial like they looked OK, but not compelling. They should have had the show around the perimeter rather than in the center of the building, so everything could have been illuminated by daylight.
After a nice lunch in the café, I caught the train back. I had had a vague idea of trying to catch the Koons show that evening, but decided it would just spoil my mood. I didn't love everything about Beacon, but that's as it should be. I got exactly the kind of in-depth, individual experience that MOMA and most other museums don't care about anymore. A light on the Hudson.