I had a revelatory experience looking at squiggles on a wall today.
For the first time, I gained a deep appreciation for Sol Lewitt‘s work. Though I’ve seen a few of his works in person and many in reproduction, the innovation, technique and phenomenological experience did not become reified to me until my visit to Dia:Beacon today.
There are eight rooms dedicated to Lewitt’s early wallworks at the Dia:Beacon in upstate New York. While all the works followed instructions, and often consisted of no more than pencil line on white walls, they resulted in myriad visual experiences. They were immense, immaculately executed, and beautifully situated in one of the best buildings for viewing art that I’ve seen in the US.
The drawings brought to mind ideas about order, grid, variation, geometry, the human hand and authorship. I thought about the attention to detail that the executors brought to their tasks, the roots of our associations between abstractions and whimsy or gravitas, the simplicity of the materials, and the ingeniousness of Lewitt’s efficacy.
The works grounded me at Dia:Beacon. I was flooded with gratitude. I felt lucky to be able to see the works in person in such a lovely setting. I was also grateful to the Dia Foundation for allowing so much space to individual artists. I never saw anything like this in California. This dedication was complimented with a commitment to direct, uninterrupted viewing experiences. Didactic texts were minimal; perfect, indirect sunlight filtered in from the building’s northern windows; guards were sparse, demure, and inconspicuous; and there was plenty of space and peace.
It might seem strange to admit, but standing in a room with only pencil lines and squiggles on a grid, a dopey smile spread across my face. This the quality and scale of the viewing experience and the stellar collection re-energized my excitement about being in New York. At the risk of hyperbole, Dia:Beacon elevated my expectations of what is possible in art.
Also on view are breathtaking “negative sculptures” by Michael Heizer, and many fine examples of Fred Sandback’s yarn installations and Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs. I also loved the cool basement full of uningratiating works by Bruce Nauman (including his recent studio-mouse-surveillance videos, complete with shop stools), Louise Lawler’s humorous bird calls-based outdoor sound piece, and a room full of On Kawara’s date paintings. Robert Irwin’s landscape design formed a soothing contemporary art idyll. I didn’t want to leave.
Photographs were not allowed, and in any case, my snaps would not do any justice to Lewitt or Dia. You’ll just have to see it with your own eyes.