Beacon of Light

Groundbreaking art shines at the extraordinary new Dia: Beacon museum on New York's Hudson River

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Andy Warhol is represented with 72 of his Shadows paintings, a series of 102 renderings of the same difficult-to-decipher shadow in a corner of Warhol’s studio. Designed to be hung together edge to edge, like a mural, each grainy silkscreen is treated differently—printed on a black or metallic background and washed in a spectrum of vaporous colors, from Day-Glo green to choirboy red. Warhol produced the series in less than two months, between December 1978 and January 1979, showed parts of it in an art gallery, then used it as a backdrop for a fashion shoot for the April 1979 issue of his magazine, Interview.


Beyond the Warhols, the world that the German-born artist Hanne Darboven has constructed—called Kulturgeschichte (Cultural History), 1880-1983, consists of 1,590 framed photographs, magazine covers, newspaper clippings, notes, personal papers and quotations, all hung floor to ceiling in a grand, overwhelming onslaught of information. The effect is not unlike walking through a history book.


At the southern end of the museum, a rarely seen work by the late artist Fred Sandback re-creates part of his 1977 Vertical Constructions series. Sandback used colored yarn to outline an enormous upright rectangle. There’s another one just like it a few feet away. The space they diagram appears as real as a wall of glass. You seem to be on the outside looking in, but if you step over the yarn to the other side, you find yourself once again on the outside of the illusion.


Beyond Sandback’s yarn is Donald Judd’s 1976 untitled installation of 15 plywood boxes. Judd, an artist, philosopher and critic who died in 1994 at age 65, wanted to strip sculpture to its bare essentials. He used industrial materials—plywood, milled metal, Plexiglas—and had his sculptures made by fabricators. From a distance, his unpainted, roughly chest high boxes, which sit directly on the gallery’s floor with space to stroll among them, appear identical. But up close you can see that each of the boxes is slightly different, conjugating a vocabulary of open, closed, spliced and bisected forms. “It is a myth that difficult work is difficult,” Judd claimed. His idea that the context in which a sculpture or painting is seen is as important as the work itself—and essential to comprehending it—would become Dia:Beacon’s credo.


“Looking at Judd’s works, you start to think about limitless possibilities,” says Riggio (who with his wife, Louise, contributed more than half the $66 million it took to realize the museum). “You feel not just the brilliance of the artist himself, but you also feel the potential of the human spirit, which includes your own. You see what a great mind can do, so it’s more than about the art.”



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