If the city isn’t wintry enough for you, take MetroNorth out of Grand Central some morning up to Beacon, New York. Along the frozen Hudson River, this small town is home to Dia:Beacon, and Dia is a monument of a museum to Modernist art.
The scale of the place lends Modernism a lighthearted air. One feels distanced from the small people walking on the other side of the gallery and more immersed in an aesthetic experience. The huge works beg to be played with just as they play with your perceptions. The atmosphere invites you to touch the works (Dont!, however). It even begs for you to do a little dance inside the center of a Richard Serra sculpture. This sense of exploration is with you around every corner.
A former Nabisco factory, its proportions are suited to the huge works its showcases. Galleries of open windows and bare white wall, stretching miles, make it a pared down Versailles. The works, of Sol LeWitt and Joseph Beuys and other important Modernist figures, take up the space beautifully. Rooms bigger than most New York City apartments contain rows of Robert Ryman’s white paintings or compacted cars.
Robert Ryman, Vector, 1997.
Dia also has spaces set off from the main galleries on the ground floor, so that smaller, darker brick rooms hold Louise Bourgeois’s womb-like sculptures and her impressive bronze cast of a spider resting its huge weight on spindly legs. On the basement level, there are dark rooms showcasing neon light sculptures and movies playing on the walls. In a former loading dock are Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses, large circular wall installations of to wander in and out of.
Such extremes of Modernism can be overwhelming. I left wondering if the canvases painted white, the pieces of string attached floor to ceiling, and the compacted cars really hold meaning or if the whole experience was a colossal joke. Yet it does feel wonderfully playful to wander there, and the whole trip is a pleasant escape.
Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1997