Apotheosis Now

Experiencing Dia:Beacon's Ashram of the Abstract

About Dia's policy of permanently keeping the art the way it is: Judd was right. "A good installation," he wrote, "is too much work and too expensive, and if done by the artist, too personal to then destroy." Most of the installations are stunning; a couple are revelatory. I was transfixed in ways I've never been before by Richter's distorting gray mirrors; Kawara's galleries are superb, even if his paintings are monotonous in bulk. The installations that don't work will presumably be fine-tuned over time. In addition to the Chamberlains, I'd rethink the Flavins, which are fantastic but difficult to compare and contrast in the zigzag configuration he designed. Also, the Bechers look weak (perhaps due to a lack of internal structure in the exhibited work); Lawrence Weiner gets lost; Sol LeWitt's sculpture is crowded (although his wall drawing sings); and I could be wrong on these, but Ryman is overhung, while Smithson's elegant Map of Glass (Atlantis), at 20 by 16 feet, feels a tad too large.

Some say Dia:Beacon is a power play; others, a tomb. I think it's a labor of love. Regardless, it's not a museum. It's a collection (even if much of the work by the Bechers, Bourgeois, Darboven, Nauman, Smithson, and Weiner is borrowed). That's why it's pointless to complain about the absence of artists like Andre, or lone wolves and weirdos like Kusama, Le Va, Bontecou, and Saul, or carp about there being other better artists of the period. Dia's had its taste from the beginning. It's fine that it has remained more or less true to it.

Or maybe it isn't. The space at Dia:Beacon is great. So is some of the art. But together they feel very predictable and strangely period—like seeing a perfect, black-leather Marcel Breuer couch in the lobby of an International Style office building. By now the look Dia helped invent and fetishize comes off as slightly canned.

A museum, or a mausoleum?: Walter De Maria's The Equal Area Series (1976–77, detail) at Dia:Beacon
photo: Robin Holland
A museum, or a mausoleum?: Walter De Maria's The Equal Area Series (1976–77, detail) at Dia:Beacon

Enormous credit and thanks should be given to Friedrich, Dia's generous trustees, curator Lynne Cooke, and Govan, for—in Govan's straightforward words—"not screwing it up." Beacon will get really interesting, however, if Dia devotes several big spaces there to changing exhibitions of contemporary art, the way it does in New York, and when it extends its taste, as we all must, and puts less congruous, more strange art, old and new, into this breathtaking edifice.

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