DIA:Beacon Trakas Garden, 2011
About seventy miles north of New York City in Duchess County is a little town called Beacon. If you drive there from Manhattan the recommended route takes you over to New Jersey and up through the mountains to Newburgh and then back across the river to Beacon. But if you take the Metro North train from Grand Central, the view’s much better.
Why would you want to go to Beacon, anyway? It used to be a hardscrabble little town visited mostly, I gather, for its industrial printing plant and proximity to the Downstate Correctional Facility at Fishkill. To this day a fleet of taxi cabs waits outside the Beacon train station beckoning anyone “going to jail?”
But that’s not the reason we went to Beacon. (Besides, we don’t know anyone at Downstate.) We went to see the DIA:Beacon Museum. We took the train because why would you drive when you can take the train from midtown Manhattan to Beacon and walk a short distance up the hill from the station to the DIA:Beacon?
Besides, getting to Beacon on the train is half the fun. Leaving Grand Central you come above ground in Harlem, then follow the Harlem River north to the Hudson River, which is almost never out of sight the rest of the way to Beacon. You pass through places with names lifted from Cheever stories: Tarrytown, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining (home of Sing Sing prison and Don and Betty Draper), Peekskill, Cold Spring, Cornwall-on-Hudson and, finally, Beacon. Along the way you see sailboats tugging at their moorings to be let free into the wind. Swans gather in calm backwaters. Tugboats push barges along. Near Cold Spring you can look across the river and see the majestic West Point military academy on the opposite bluff. Just before you get into Beacon you pass the decaying castle at Bannerman Island.
The main reason people go to Beacon who don’t live there or aren’t going to the prison, though, is to visit the DIA:Beacon museum. It’s located in a former Nabisco/International Paper printing plant, also formerly the town's main industry.
I don’t know enough about contemporary art to know how to appreciate some of it. There's work that moves you and work I would describe as the kind of piles of metal, sand and glass that if they were in your yard you’d pay to have someone remove them.
DIA:Beacon has some of all the above. But first, let me recommend that you visit if for no other reason than that it’s a magnificent series of gallery spaces. Under tall ceilings and skylights where giant presses once rumbled are now immense quiet galleries painted white. They’d be very cool to photograph except that you’re not allowed to do that.
The cool thing about DIA:Beacon is that it’s galleries are large enough to hold huge pieces of art that are simply too big for most galleries to show. For example, Richard Serra’s Union of the Torus and the Sphere. As if to complement Serra’s immense arcs of steel, there’s Michael Heizer’s North, East, South, West, equally immense geometric holes in the floor.
There’s a long gallery of neon work from Dan Flavin, a whimsical retrospective of the late German artist who adopted the name “Blinky Palermo,” the imaginative yarn planes of Fred Sandback and work by a host of contemporary luminaries.
By far my favorite area at DIA:Beacon is the Sol Lewitt collection, particularly the Drawing Series. Each wall in the Drawing Series collection is a masterpiece of lines, arcs, squares and doodles. Some are visible from afar. Some you don’t even notice until your nose is practically pressed against the wall. I could have stood for hours before each one, letting my eyes alternately wander across and delve deeper into Lewitt’s lines.
I don’t know a lot about contemporary art. So I have to merely let it either work its magic on me, or not. At DIA:Beacon I saw work that intrigued me, work that engaged me and work that compelled me to examine familiar things in new ways. That alone makes DIA: Beacon work visiting. (And yes, there were a few piles of metal, sand and glass that if they'd been in my yard I'd have paid to have them hauled to the dump.)
As for the picture above, it’s one of the few spaces at DIA:Beacon you’re allowed to photograph. DIA:Beacon sits on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Artist George Trakas designed this terrace to take advantage of the view out over the River. There’s no railing on the far edge. So the effect is like that of an infinity pool.