The first thing that strikes you is the space. With 240,000
square feet of galleries, the new Dia:Beacon museum, which opened
May 18 in Beacon, N.Y., is the largest museum of contemporary art
anywhere. But it's not just about outer space. Dia aims to cultivate
"This is art you don't just see with your eyes but you take in
with your spirit," says Leonard Riggio, chief benefactor and chair
of the Dia Art Foundation.
Minimalist art in a maxi-size space? The last thing the New York
area needs is another museum - right?
Wrong. The new museum, the size of a Wal-Mart megastore, is
filled not only with glorious light, but with works that invite
contemplation. Ironically, minimalist art is massive sculpture.
What's minimal about it is that it's pure form - with simple lines,
serially repeating elements, with no recognizable imagery or
Before Beacon, the Dia Art Foundation could show only a fraction
of its collection in year-long exhibitions at its Chelsea gallery in
Manhattan. Most of the collection had been in storage and not
accessible to the public. At its new venue, Dia shows some of the
700 rarely seen works in its permanent collection. Artists are given
their own galleries to show their work "in depth and intensity," as
curator Lynne Cooke says.
The $50-million Beacon facility allows immersion, so the viewer -
to paraphrase a '60s slogan - can "turn on, tune in, and drop out"
of the ordinary world, focusing on a single artist's body of work.
In the new facility 60 miles north of New York, the works by 23
artists are austere, mostly abstract, and devoid of narrative. This
temple of purity presents art by major figures such as Donald Judd,
Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Sol LeWitt, who
came to prominence in the 1960s and '70s.
With Pop artists who were working in the same period, this
generation was the first in which American-born artists exerted
international influence. They changed the definition of art,
radically altering ideas of composition, scale, materials, and
Their work in styles called Earth Art, Conceptual Art, and
Minimalism "defied description," Mr. Riggio says. "It knew no
boundaries and invited the viewer to become an important component
of the work itself."
A nearly overwhelming example is Heizer's "North, East, South,
West" (1967-2002) - steel-lined holes that appear to be as deep as
missile silos. Looking down the funnel of an inverted cone, sunk
into the concrete floor like Alice's rabbit hole, is a visceral,
scary experience. You feel dizzy, your heart beats fast. It's like
falling in love - with the added fillip that you could literally
The Dia Art Foundation, founded in 1974, focuses on a narrow
range of artists and funds ambitious, site-specific works that take
decades to realize. (The word "dia" - Greek for "through" - implies
a means through which artists create works.) In Dia's Roden Crater
project, James Turrell has been sculpting an Arizona volcano into a
celestial observatory since the 1970s.
German art dealer Heiner Friedrich and his wife, Philippa de
Menil, a wealthy oil heiress, originally selected, based on their
personal taste, 12 artists to receive Dia's largesse. …