Some more reflections on my recent visit to Dia:Beacon…
There was the general theme of geometric abstractions, of calculated and crispy clean shapes with a limited outsource of energy minus John Chamberlain’s contorted automobile parts, which were nothing but streaming color and vigorous movement.
The most mind-boggling works must be Sol Lewitt’s Drawing Series… , composed of 14 large wall drawings executed by a dozen or so assistants working on location at Dia. These obsessive and deliberate works reflect the Conceptual artists’ notion of executing an idea or concept onto a tangible surface. Squares and lines create gridded patterns on the wall arranged in colors limited to graphite and primary shades of red blue and yellow. They are at once visually engulfing, with viewer (me) hypnotized by the realization of a simple idea made existent in a serial manner. The determination to create these grids were rubbed off onto me and I am considering creating the same works with the guide of Lewitt’s instructions. That was his point, that it’s not the wall you take home but the conceptual idea he created. The drawings are merely the documentary evidence of Lewitt’s idea reduced to a written set of instructions, realized recently from concepts created in the 60’s.
Dia has exhibited extensively on Agnes Martin’s minimal stripe paintings in here they stood out as most gentle and feminine, differentiating from other geometric works such as Blinky Palermo and Robert Ryman. Large squares and horizontal grids were colored by soft pastels, barely significant lines drawn with graphite, serene and ephemeral in execution. I wonder why the initial graphite sketch weren’t erased one she painted over with these light colors, creating a second dimension of textured canvas and creating a music paper rendition of painting. Colors were neutral and peaceful creating a very subdued and almost ambivalent environment but simultaneously expressionistic. The delicate and painterly compositions creates a meditative and emotional environment distancing itself from the cold and rigid and mechanical works of fellow Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists.
Blinky Palermo’s series of mechanical abstract paintings titled To The People of New York City is composed of 39 individual paintings in varying sizes divided into 15 parts painted on aluminum panels and disposed onto the wall in calculated arrangement and placement. Colors were limited to red yellow and black arrangement in horizontal 3 part grids, usually 4 in a row in various combinations with equal distancing between them. They were repetitive and serial and captivating for this reason, the effect of the banal, the everyday experience of wake, work, eat, sleep expressed in this dedication as referred to the title. There is no gestural activity except but the slight slip of paint upon close observation between 2 colors, otherize a regularized and inflexible system occurs that is mechanical and inexpressive, reminiscent of a flag of some nonexistent country.
Gerhard Richter’s installation was comprised of large glass surfaces mounted and angled from the wall at various angles, all a consistent opaque gray, reflecting the surrounding environment but simultaneously silencing what enters the medium. There are 6 large panes in total intimidatingly surrounding the viewer in unison and consistency. Light from the ceiling window was reflected off the surface casting looming shadows and brightening with crystal focus on other parts. It is an example of the artist’s notion of painting as either a window to reality or a mirror reflection of the self. There is no sign of expression of pictorial language in and of itself and engages only with the viewer and its immediate surrounding. A contradiction between opacity and reflection, Richter’s Six Gray Mirrors offer no definite conclusion as to whether we should or shouldn’t regard these pieces as a window to a view of the world or as a mirror reflecting the self-conscious presence of whatever subject engaged with the artwork itself.
Fred Sandback’s signature use of string as art and the framing of non-space, negative space is displayed here in a rather hectic arrangement, scattered between multiple galleries, attacking the walls, floors and ceilings in a hap hazardous manner. Sandback created an environment of volume-less sculpture, space less and yet full of content based on perspective and concept. The outcome is in his words a “material relationship with my environment…part of a continuing attitude and relationship to things…” , here being the work in active participation with the space and viewer. It brings to mind of concept of sculpture as installation, no longer standing on a pedestal self-imposed and irrelevant to the space it is surrounded in. Here it is no participatory and shares the same space as the spectator.
Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses consists of a series of gigantic steel plates lined next to each other willowing from side to side like flowers against the wind. Each shape has a narrow entrance for the viewer to step in and experience the space within the piece, and become one with the art, experiencing a push-pull relationship to the winding of the steel plate. It’s an adventurous task and certainly claustrophobic, especially once reaching the center of the piece and you realize you’re in the center of a huge contained circular sculpture. Scary. This self-consciousness and hypersensitive awareness of the viewer’s placement within the sculptures gives Richard Serra the ability to engage what in his words are “ways of relating movement to material and space”.
There were many men artists represented in this exhibition. The only female artists would be Agnes Martin and Louis Bourgeois, the latter of whom was situated in an upstairs attic-like area and works that did not communicated with the overall minimal geometric abstract theme of the works downstairs. Overall the show questions the relationship and interaction between consciousness and space, between viewer and artwork and their awareness with the space and environment surrounding them. The messages are subtle and subdued, beautifully abstract and minimal, cool and calculated, theoretical and simultaneously simple. A splendid show and a peaceful perfect one day getaway upstate.