THE TEAM RETAINED THE INDUSTRIAL ELEMENTS OF THE ORIGINAL FACTORY, BUILT IN 1929 USING BRICK, STEEL, CONCRETE AND GLASS, WHILE CREATING A MODERN EXHIBITION SPACE FOR LARGE PIECES.
Nestled on the banks of the Hudson River in the quaint city of Beacon, a 90 minute train ride from Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, Dia:Beacon is a magnet for contemporary art lovers and nature deprived city dwellers. Opened in May 2003, Dia:Beacon’s tranquil, industrial space is home to works by iconic artists including Richard Serra, Dan Flavin and Andy Warhol.
Housed in a former printing factory owned by Nabisco – the company that makes Oreo cookies – Dia:Beacon pioneered the use of industrial buildings as art spaces, and is much credited for breathing new life into Beacon’s sleepy streets. Once dubbed the “The Hat Making Capital of the US”, Beacon was a bustling factory town that fell from grace in the 1970s when the economy declined and countless businesses were shuttered. The downturn left majority of the city’s factories and warehouses empty through the early 1990s, but the arrival of Dia:Beacon kick started Beacon’s renaissance, transforming it from a solemn industrial wasteland into a lively arts destination.
When creating the Dia:Beacon space, the Dia Art Foundation (which has a gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea and a handful of smaller spaces in New York City and State) worked with American installation artist Robert Irwin to restore the almost 300,000 square foot factory, which lent itself to the large-scale installations and sculptures Dia wanted to exhibit. The team retained the industrial elements of the original factory, built in 1929 using brick, steel, concrete and glass, while creating a modern exhibition space for large pieces. Each gallery was designed to showcase one artist’s work, giving the gallery a lofty sense of space, while the building’s original skylights – all 34,000 square feet of them – mean Dia:Beacon is able to be lit entirely by natural light. Today, the building is heritage listed, and its lush, seasonal gardens are as grand as the space itself.
Wandering through the gallery can easily fill a day, though its hours are clipped during the cooler months. As well as temporary exhibits, Dia:Beacon is home to a handful of permanent works, including Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses – colossal, steel sculptures you can literally disappear into – and Andy Warhol’s arresting Shadows collection, painted in 1978–79 and spanning 350 linear feet. In the attic, eerie sculptures by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois – nicknamed ‘Spiderwoman’ for her confronting spider structures – are suspended from the ceiling, while the main gallery is illuminated by a series of Dan Flavin’s iconic light installations (the Dia Art Foundation also operates the Dan Flavin Art Institute from a tiny, renovated firehouse in Bridgehampton, New York).
The gallery hosts regular events, including public programmes and in-depth talks with artists, and is an ideal city escape. Should you have a little time to kill before the leisurely train ride back to Manhattan, Beacon’s historic streets are worth exploring, and are studded with charming cafes and antique stores. Dia:Beacon’s gardens, also designed by Robert Irwin, are perhaps the best place to while away the hours though, with cherry trees, rolling hills and wooden benches for soaking up the surrounds.