Bernd and Hilla Becher
Selections from Bernd and Hilla Becher's photographic inventory of vernacular industrial architecture-much of which verges on obsolescence-are displayed in a gallery that is divided into two equal parts. In one half of the space are partial views of building structures; the other contains details of large-scale machinery, pipes, conduits, and metallic containers that belong to a diverse range of industrial plants. Centered and frontally framed, each motif is shot using a large-format camera and finely grained black-and-white film, the combination of which ensures a remarkable tonal range. Typically, the Bechers work under slightly overcast skies to ensure an even, diffuse light with minimal shadows. And they avoid all anecdotal incident-such as intrusive foliage, stray animals, and humans-to focus on the subject objectively and dispassionately.
Joseph Beuys's encyclopedic Arena-dove sarei arrivato se fossi stato intelligente! (Arena-where would I have got if I had been intelligent!), 1970-72, is a key work in the artist's oeuvre. It includes 100 panels containing a compendium of photographs taken from the beginning of his career, in the mid-1950s, up to 1972, interweaving shots of some of his most important actions with details of individual elements from those actions. Far from documentary, these images are highly evocative, for many of the negatives were bleached, solarized, or otherwise manipulated; some prints have torn edges or perforations. The surfaces of most were worked over, often with a layer of wax, or with fat and Braunkreuz, an oil-based medium that was a staple of the artist's vocabulary. A single found photograph, of the Roman amphitheater in Verona, speaks to Beuys's overriding vision that the work address the "arena of life." Arena also includes an oilcan and piles of blocks consisting of wax and fat interspersed with sheets of copper and iron, which serve as freestanding sculptural components, relics from a performance Beuys made to accompany his first presentation of this seminal work.
Works by Louise Bourgeois on view at Dia:Beacon include one of the most charged of her recent series of monumental Spiders, the resonant motif dominating her work from the mid-1990s. It is installed in the barely refurbished, dimly lit room, that constitutes, in effect, the museum's attic. With its tall, thick legs supporting a cage like enclosure, the architectonic Spider (1997) is at once a powerful metaphor for the protective mother and a representation of a nightmarish predator, threatening to enfold the viewer not in its proverbial web but in a metal cage. In Bourgeois's Spider, fragments of venerable textiles drape mesh walls; other pieces of fabric cover a worn armchair inside the cage.
Dia's extensive collection of John Chamberlain's vigorously gestural abstract sculpture made of crushed automobile parts, his signature material, runs the gamut across a career now spanning more than four decades. It includes such rare gems as Norma Jean Risen (1967/81), which, exceptionally, has been sprayed with a single hue, a velvety black paint; Doom's Day Flotilla (1982), a low-slung, meandering phalanx of horizontal forms whose elongated armatures are derived from dismembered truck chassis; and, equally singular, The Privet (1997), whose sumptuous surfaces are compressed into a taut geometric configuration. More typical is the grandly imposing, bravura improvisation, Luftschloss, 1979, with its palette of sweet hard oranges and reds inflected with chrome and cream accents.
Hanne Darboven's monumental Kulturgeschichte 1880-1983 (Cultural History 1880-1983), 1980-1983, consists of 1,590 framed sheets and nineteen sculptural objects. It synthesizes personal and collective history, interweaving cultural, social, and historical references and autobiographical materials. Arrayed systematically in grids covering the walls of the gallery virtually from floor to ceiling and edge to edge, the sheets include postcards, film- and rock-star pinups, textile diagrams, covers of major newsmagazines, media references to the twentieth century's many wars, and myriad other elements, interspersed with extracts from the artist's earlier work and mementos of previous exhibitions.
Walter De Maria
Walter De Maria's The Equal Area Series (1976-77) comprises pairs of highly polished, stainless-steel circles and squares that are installed flat on the floor, down the center of two adjacent, symmetrical galleries. The paired forms progressively increase in size by increments of one inch; in the left gallery, the increase occurs from the front of the museum to the back, and in the right gallery from back to front. The work thus leaves the smallest pair and the largest pair installed on either side of the gallery's threshold. This arrangement seems to counteract perspectival distortion on one side of the dividing wall and to intensify it on the other, providing a subtle but perceptibly different system of mensuration spanning the twin galleries.
Dan Flavin's series of "monuments" for V. Tatlin, a selection of which is presented at Dia:Beacon, is his most sustained series of works (1964-81). Flavin's signature fluorescent-light works are installed on a zigzag wall, as defined by the artist during his lifetime. They shape the space in the gallery with light, uniting sculpture, painting, and architecture into a cohesive environment. Flavin's "monuments" are named for Russian avant-garde artist Vladimir Tatlin's unrealized spiral tower, Monument to the Third International (c. 1919-20). Flavin's naming of a work consisting of commercial light fixtures-which are by their nature temporary and insubstantial-after a planned monument was intentionally ironic, meant to highlight the differences between his art and the symbolic timelessness and weightiness of Tatlin's.
Michael Heizer's North, East, South, West (1967/2002) consists of four open geometric forms-a compound cube, a cone, a wedge, and a conical section-constructed of weathering steel. The massive shapes have been inserted into the floor to a depth of approximately twenty feet. Visitors encounter vertiginous empty spaces created by the work's disturbing negative volumes, which engender an intense physical relationship between the viewer's body and the solids and voids defined by the work. The imposing physical dimensions of North, East, South, West, and its integration-or intrusion-into the fabric of the building, force an entirely different viewing experience from that of traditional monolithic sculpture, one that depends on multiple viewpoints extending through time and space.
Robert Irwin's west garden serves as an outdoor gallery at Dia:Beacon. Accessible from three different points, it provides an alternative to fabricated artworks in the guise of a composition make from a variety of plant material. A central aisle of cherry trees with shrubs and lavender planted as undergrowth, terminates in a pair of weeping hemlock trees, one planted at each of its ends. Its western edge is bordered by a metal fence and an evergreen hedgerow, while hydrangeas and other flowering plants flank the eastern wall. Clematis climbs the northern retaining wall. Stair planters at the south end of the garden containing Japanese Barberry lead to the former train shed, which now houses Richard Serra's sculptures.
The untitled work of 1976 by Donald Judd comprised of fifteen plywood boxes fabricated from Douglas fir is a key work in the artist's oeuvre. While every box has identical dimensions, each is unique in form, so it becomes a singular object and part of a larger work. Viewing the piece requires that the visitor navigate through the sequence of boxes in order to explore the diverse yet subtle formal permutations of form among the units. Typical of Judd's practice at this time, this piece is closely engaged with issues of site and presentation. In relentlessly probing similarity and difference, likeness and identity, and the relationship of the work to its context, Judd's works require and reward close and attentive scrutiny.
A gallery devoted to work by On Kawara houses a specially created presentation comprising thirty-five Date paintings from the artist's magnum opus, the Today Series. Each painting in the series is a monochrome field on which Kawara inscribed the date it is executed, in the language and according to the calendrical conventions of the country in which it was executed. A subtitle is appended to some of them. The pieces at Dia:Beacon, painted in the same small format and in similar dark tonalities, were made in various cities around the world, from Tokyo to Stockholm, from New York to the town of North East Margaree, Nova Scotia. From its starting point, a day in mid-1966, the year the series began and contemporary with some of the earliest works in Dia's collection, it culminates at the turn of the millennium, in 2000.
The installation Raum 19 (Room 19), 1968, by Imi Knoebel, includes seventy-seven components-stretchers, planar elements, stereometric and rectangular volumes-all fabricated from fiberboard and raw lumber. Their particular disposition here gives the impression that they await future deployment. Dispensing with illusion in favor of corporeal presence, Knoebel's work restricts metaphoric and referential content. From stretchers and stretcher parts to picture frames, from variously scaled planar surfaces to simple sculptural volumes, it arrays the constituents and components of a painterly practice reduced to its rudimentary essentials: form, material, surface, space, support. Yet Raum 19 may also serve as an ideal model for a creative re-visioning of the world. No fixed relationships bind the components of the work, which can be configured depending on the gallery and the artist's impulses or the proclivities of the museum's installation staff.
Drawing Series-Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, B (1968/2003), a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, is formulated from an initial idea outlined by the artist in a diagrammatic sketch that is accompanied by a set of instructions. In accordance with the artist's practice, it was installed by a team of trained assistants, who rigorously followed his directives. The basic unit of the work is a square, a recurrent form in LeWitt's vocabulary. Measuring one meter per side, the squares are divided into quadrants, each made of four equal units. These composite forms are stacked into four rows centered on each of the walls of the gallery. Four directions of line-vertical, horizontal, diagonal from left to right, and diagonal from right to left-have been lightly and evenly drawn, creating grids of varying tonality. Notwithstanding the austere systematic underpinnings of the work, the whole radiates a compelling, luminous beauty.
Agnes Martin's Innocent Love (1999), a series of paintings made specifically for Dia, exemplifies the artist's combination of ideal geometry with the lightest manual trace to convey intense yet contained feeling. The eight, five-foot-square paintings in this series seem to emanate light rather than reflect it. They are marked by gently insistent horizontal bands of pale color, culminating a career-long focus on variations of horizontal lines that create overall fields, suggesting an infinite space beyond the edges of the canvases.
The selection of works by Bruce Nauman includes Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) (2001). This video installation records nocturnal activity in Nauman's studio, including that of his cat and an invasion of mice during the summer of 1999. The video projections in the gallery mimic the camera positions around the perimeter of Nauman's studio, so that the presentation at Dia:Beacon figuratively recreates the studio. Views of the studio also reveal traces of daily activity evidenced in the shifting locations of tools and materials as well as accumulated residues of past work. A highly mediated experience of the artist's private world, Mapping the Studio offers voyeuristic access to the artistic process, while simultaneously acknowledging the impossibility of actual access to it.
To the People of New York City (1976-77), by Blinky Palermo, consists of fifteen groupings of individual paintings on aluminum. Painted in different combinations of cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and black they construct a nonsystematic geometric series. Palermo has evenly applied his acrylic paint to thin aluminum panels, eliminating any evidence of gestural activity and allowing the brush to leave only subtly apparent striations or irregularities. Since no two panels are identical and a variety of scales further distinguish the groups, Palermo's complex chromatic series embodies an endlessly permutable potential for open-ended interplay between individual panels and groups of panels.
Gerhard Richter's ongoing concern with such issues as the role of representation in art, the relationship of the work to the context in which it is shown, and framing, informs Six Gray Mirrors (2003). This site-specific work consists of six four-meter-square mirrors, each of which is cantilevered approximately twenty-nine inches off the wall. Each mirror tilts in a different direction from the others, reflecting indirectly what is above, below, to the left, or to the right. The work thus alters the boundaries of the environment, playing with and compounding the viewer's experience of the gallery. It gives complex and subtle expression to Richter's career-long focus on the conventions and tropes of Western painting, which derive from the notion of a painting as either a window onto a world beyond or a mirror, which reflects whatever is held before it.
Robert Ryman's Vector (1975-97) comprises eleven panels of uniform size, hung equidistant from one another. The evenhanded application of white paint evokes the question of how the paint of the painting is differentiated from that of the white wall behind it: In effect, the paint quality of both the work and the wall nearly match. However, the panels may be distinguished in that their narrow, unpainted left sides are made of a light, yellowish wood while their right sides are of redwood. As the light plays on the painted surfaces, the panels seem to float ever so slightly away from the wall. Thus, in Ryman's decades-long inquiry into the constituent elements of painting-the application of paint, its relationship to the surface onto which it is applied, the relationship of the painting to the wall-surface, wall, light, and spatial confines converge. They form an image that simultaneously incorporates and contradicts the formerly inert surface of the wall, and the containing spatial envelope of the gallery.
In Fred Sandback's sculptures, lengths of yarn are used both to define space and to imbue it with an incorporeal palpability. In a 1977 untitled work at Dia:Beacon, terra-cotta colored contours limn two planes positioned at right angles to each other, creating dynamic diagonal vectors on the west side of the gallery. Nearby, a vibrant ocher triangle tilting out from the wall ventures beyond its half of the space to invade the transitional passage linking this gallery to the adjacent one. As the viewer passes into this room, a second triangle, angled almost parallel to the back side of the dividing wall, is revealed. Although more subdued in hue and canted more modestly off the vertical, it deftly counters and stabilizes the bold thrust of its more monumental partner. By actively incorporating the wall as a pivot that balances a pair of contending components in delicate equilibrium, this work propels the spectator into an active engagement with the space and place in which the work is sited.
Three of Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipses (1996-97) and a torqued spiral, 2000 (2000), are on view in the facility's former train shed. In form and scale these monumental sculptures offer an unforgettable physical experience, in which space shifts and moves in unexpected ways. Visitors enter the interiors of the works by passing through openings in the massive Cor-Ten steel plates. Navigating the sculptures from within may be disorienting, as one frequently sees the converse of what is occurring at one's feet happening over one's head, making it especially difficult to track visually the curvature of the wall surfaces. The footprint of the sculpture and the shape of its upper profile only become clear from within. Each is a perfect ellipse, and each has the same radius; however, these ellipses are not aligned but angled dramatically one to the other, resulting in unprecedented spatial experiences.
Robert Smithson's oeuvre represents a reconsideration of the nature of sculpture, or of sculpture in relation to "nature." The four works at Dia:Beacon set up contrapuntal relationships between the institutional indoors and the great outdoors by importing into the gallery natural and industrial materials, which at the time had seldom been employed to create sculpture. In these works, sand, gravel, rock salt, glass, and other materials are heaped into forms responding more to gravity than handcrafting. By using mirrors, these works visually and thematically embody both their surroundings and their viewers within their own materiality. In Gravel Mirrors with Cracks and Dust (1968), mirrors-whose surfaces were shattered by the addition of gravel-line the junction of floor and wall. Their reflective depths expand the compass of the work to incorporate the other side of the gallery, including the viewer who enters its field.
Andy Warhol's Shadows (1978-79) is a single work comprising multiple canvases. Each canvas contains one of two tall, narrow forms that appear as a black positive on a colored or, more rarely, silver ground. The monochrome backgrounds range in hue from a Day-Glo acid green to a majestic purple, from a lurid turquoise to a sober brown. The canvases are hung edge to edge and close to the floor, filling the space in a presentation that mimics the first exhibition of this work. With Shadows, Warhol creates an environmental ensemble that pertains as much to decor as it does to high art, functioning in a sense as a backdrop, as it did in 1979 when the work appeared in a fashion shoot for the artist's magazine Interview.
Since the 1960s Lawrence Weiner has used language as a medium for representing material relationships in as objective a manner as possible, eliminating all traces of the artist's hand, skill, or taste. Clear, concise, lapidary, and affectless, Weiner's sculpture in the guise of statements eschews the literary or poetic, concentrating on observable properties, materials, states, conditions, behaviors, and functions of matter. In 5 Figures of Structure (1987), textual descriptions of five different arrangements of three elements are realized in black paint in an extra-condensed Franklin Gothic typeface; related diagrams of variously deployed slabs are limned on the fourth wall. The form in which this work is presented differs according to its context; this is the third installation of 5 Figures of Structure to date.
In September 2003, Robert Whitman, a pioneer in performance art, will present Prune Flat, his signature "theater piece" from 1965, at Dia:Beacon. Imbued with lyrical reverie, this work explores the intersection of cinema and theater, enduring sources of inspiration for the artist. Created with a spare vocabulary of simple props and costumes, Prune Flat is a "realistic" dream marked by a cadence of events, actions, and images, shorn of all narrative and text. It will be performed, together with the theater work Light Touch (1976), at Dia:Beacon on September 5, 6, and 7, and at Dia:Chelsea on September 10, 11, and 12. (Additionally, through June 15, 2003, Dia presents the exhibition "Playback" at Dia:Chelsea. Focusing on works that Whitman specifically devised for presentation in gallery and museum spaces, this retrospective brings together a selection of key works in various media from the early 1960s to the late 1970s.)
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