Above: Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries, Beacon, New York. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York
Are you tired of the same basic art museum experience, wandering endless galleries filling with paintings on walls and maybe the occasional sculpture? If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous that will challenge your mind and maybe even your ideas of what “art” even is, look no further than Dia:Beacon.
Dia:Beacon is one of three galleries and eight additional sites operated by the Dia: Foundation in New York, Germany, and the American West. The Dia: Foundation was founded in 1974 with a commitment to advancing, realizing, and preserving the vision of artists, and primarily collects and displays artwork from the 1960s and 1970s. Opened in 2003, the Beacon location is a large industrial structure that was formerly a Nabisco box printing factory.
Under normal circumstances, visitors would be able to buy tickets upon entering the museum. However, at the time of writing, visitors are required to reserve tickets online in advance to ensure the museum doesn’t exceed safe capacity per COVID-19 recommendations. Upon presenting buying or presenting a ticket at the front entrance, you’re presented with a small lapel pin that acts as proof that you’d paid the entrance fee for that day.
Past the front desk, visitors enter almost immediately into the galleries. The industrial character of the former factory has been maintained, with large rooms, high ceilings, clean lines, skylights, and grand windows. The space feels grand and expansive, as does the art.
Many of the works are large, free-standing sculptures that you can walk amongst and become fully immersed in. Sculptures of metal, neon lights, glass, and more, alongside flat works that are no less engaging. The majority of the museum is one level, though there are two lower floors and one upper floor, with additional galleries, both of which are accessible by elevator.
At first glance, the galleries contain only art. At every turn, there seems to be a gallery attendant ready to supply you with information, but there’s no interpretive text to be seen. As a visitor, you view the works uninfluenced. I have found that with no labels to help me “get” the artwork, I find it easier to shut off my need for understanding and just experience the art and the way it makes me feel. However, if you’re someone who wants more background information to appreciate a piece of art, fear not! A closer inspection of the galleries reveals that scattered around the galleries in easily accessible locations are labels that reveal the artist whose work is displayed in that particular area along with a QR code that, when scanned, reveals a wealth of curated information on the Dia: website that explores both the artists and the works on display. This system allows for levels of engagement that make the experience meaningful to a range of different visitors.
I must admit, I am the kind of person who doesn’t need art to “make sense.” The fact that sometimes I don’t get it is something I enjoy. The way a piece can challenge my notions of art or make me feel a certain way is often far more important to me than the interpretive text letting me know which artistic movement the artwork comes from or what the artist’s intentions were. Sometimes I want that deeper information, too, but other times I just want to experience it. I think one of the beauties of Dia:Beacon is that it caters to both sides of this coin and gives you, the visitor, the choice of how you engage.
If you’re like me and want an immersive experience that challenges your mind, you can’t miss Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses. These are massive steel structures that use tilted elliptical shapes to challenge the visitor’s perception. According to the Dia: website, “Serra’s sculptures are meant to be examined in motion, forcing the viewer to become a wanderer.” These are artworks that are meant to be entered and explored. As you enter each structure, the high tilting walls challenge your mind’s understanding of the space you’re in, and you almost immediately lose all sense of place and space outside the artwork itself. The experience is both disorienting and deeply moving.
Whether or not you spend a bit of time with Serra’s Torqued Ellipses or some of the other works in the collection (Shadows, a work of abstract art by Andy Warhol, will be another highlight for many), it’s easily possible to explore the entire museum in an afternoon before taking a few minutes to browse the Bookshop or grab refreshments at the Café.
Whatever you do, don’t let the fact that you can see the museum in an afternoon deter you from returning. With changing exhibits and regular programming, you probably won’t have seen absolutely everything Dia:Beacon has to offer. Even if the galleries haven’t changed in between visits, I think that one of the beauties of the abstract artwork Dia:Beacon offers is that even if you’ve seen the works before, each encounter can provide a completely new experience.
Dia:Beacon is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. As of Fall 2021, Dia:Beacon is requiring all guests to reserve tickets in advance. This can be done easily online, or by calling ahead. The ticket prices are as follows, and all tickets can be reserved on the online portal unless otherwise noted:
$12 Students and seniors
$12 Visitors with disabilities (with free admission for accompanying care partners)
Free for Dia members and children under 12
Free for active duty service members (must call ahead to reserve this ticket)
There is also one day per month in which admission is free for Hudson Valley residents. More information about Hudson Valley Free Days is available at diart.org.
Dia:Beacon is located at 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY. It’s located near major highways, making it easily accessible by car. It’s also about half a mile from the Beacon train station, so visitors from New York City and the Hudson Valley can get to the museum by train on the Metro-North Rail Line. If you’re unable to make the half-mile walk from the train station to the museum, there is a free loop bus that takes passengers from the station to Dia:Beacon. It’ll also take you to Main Street, Beacon, where you can check out shops or grab a meal after your museum visit (if nothing in the Museum café strikes your fancy).
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Dana Congelosi is originally from Wallkill, New York. Trained in history and anthropology at the undergraduate level, she is currently completing a Masters in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University and will pursue a career in museum education. When she gets a break from studying, Dana loves to read fantasy novels, practice her ukulele, or head to the nearest dance studio to let loose in her favorite pair of tap shoes.