Dia Beacon: Part II

The train pulls out of darkness and traverses the ugly periphery of New York City.  These are always ugly places, these outskirts.  Paris, New York, London.  They’re all the same drab, graffiti-covered dumping grounds for the everythings people don’t want to look at.  Trash heaps travel on barges.  Dirty school buses parked in their concrete metal farms.  Tall brick projects jut into the sky, stacking one unwanted person after another after another after another.  And as soon as it comes, it is gone.

Concrete gives way to greenery and the water, though still a sallow brown, seems more hospitable to wildlife and less so a refuge for Styrofoam cups and forgotten cigarette butts.  Above the river and the cliffs hugging its banks hang stacks of clouds so puffed and still, they look more like 3D renderings in a cardboard diorama designed by Michel Gondry.

The river’s banks are lined with rusting telephone poles and the broken and bleached out boughs of trees.  Much of the natural vegetation has been razed for industry or recreation.  Manicured baseball diamonds and restaurants for tourists stand in the place of acres of trees.  In a long-abandoned parking lot, natural grasses creep through ever-expanding cracks in asphalt and the cherry trees blossom in an unruly and liberated fashion.

My view along the Hudson continues like so until we arrive at Beacon station.  I nudge Tommy awake and we walk five minutes away from the water following signs for “Dia.”

From the outside, the Dia is misleading.  Its façade does not relay the vast nature of the building, which spans an endless 300,000 square feet.  Built in 1929, the building was originally home to a Nabisco box printing facility.  The Dia was gifted the property by its most current owner, International Paper, back in 1999 – much to the benefit of contemporary art – and the museum opened its doors in 2004.*

We walk through a tiny and unassuming lobby and into a vast expanse of white.  The sheer scale of the building is intimidating and the conversion of this formal industrial space into a gallery is art unto itself.  Small slats of yellowed birch wood line the floors, hammered down with the visible flattened heads of silver nails.  It reminds me very much of a bowling alley of seemingly infinite length.  Light pours through skylights of tempered glass and the view to the outside is often the blurred mess of a Seurat-inspired landscape.

All I want to do here is roller skate like Steve Martin in LA Story.

Glass.

White.

Concrete.

Endless amounts of it all.

Row upon row of large-scale works of art.  Pencil scrawlings on drywall.  Richard Serra and his iron snail shell labyrinths.  Mirrors submerged in dirt.  A graveyard of wooden boxes of varied nature.  It keeps going.

In the basement, if you could call something so large a basement, is an area Jon dubs creepy in a “bring your hand lotion” kind of way.  The lights are down and the first piece of art is a quartet of neon signs blinking quietly: white death, red murder…things like that.  To the right is a hallway, at the end of which is another neon work, this one of a man in the action of being hung from a rope – the result of his death being what is perhaps a rigamortis-induced erection.  Strange.

An entire room is dedicated to projection of green-tinted footage of various creepy basements.  A speaker in the corner tells stories via equally disturbing room sounds mixed with the occasional moan of a woman who is either being murdered or satisfied, I’m not sure which.

As we walk the darkened halls I express my desire to be invited to parties decorated in a similar theme – something extravagant in its morbidity and skeeve factor.  Jon, like a true and traveled New Yorker, comes back with, “I’m pretty sure I’ve been to parties like this in Brooklyn before.  They were just dirtier and smelled worse.”  In my estimation, this is probably true.

We wander the museum until we have had our fill, exiting through the same small doors we entered and walking back through the verdant and thoughtfully designed parking lot – a parking lot where each individual spot is allotted a corresponding tree.  The entire experience gives me hope for the ability of this planet to elevate above its current state of shameless industry and the ugly bi-products of unconscious consumption.  If something this moving and beautiful can be made of a former factory, anything is possible.

http://www.diabeacon.org/sites/page/1/1003

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Dia Beacon: Part I

Jon calls me on the phone.  He’s giggling and still drunk from last night.  I express frustration that I might not be able to find my camera in time so I can document our trip to the Dia Beacon museum today.  He makes a joke about how it might be under my entertainment center.  I counter, assuring him that it isn’t, but that I wish something else was.  I don’t think he gets my joke, but whatever he uses as filler in his head is funny enough: he erupts into peals of laughter.  “See you at eleven.”

I take the subway to Grand Central Station and walk through the main concourse to purchase a ticket to Beacon, ignoring the teal fresco ceiling and the plaster relief sculptures, walking between people staring thoughtfully at train schedules or taking ill-composed photographs of their children.

One ticket to Beacon, please.

Jon arrives with Tommy and his sister in tow.  Tommy’s got a nice tan from his short-lived migration to Florida.  I haven’t seen him since 2007 and his hair has grown.  “I’m starving,” Jon growls like a hungry bear.  We walk down to Eata Pita and I note that their couscous looks like enriched uranium and not at all like couscous.  Their “Shawafel” – a clever combo of shawarma and falafel – does not appeal and I am feeling finicky.   I buy a pack of gum and eat a Lara bar because I have assumed the sad and harmless life of a hunter-gatherer.

Without cause to sit down with a knife and fork to eat my “food”, I set off in search of the perfect train car.  This proves to be quite difficult.  The first one I walk into smells distinctly of a battle between bacteria and an anti-septic spray.  There must be a bathroom here, I think.  Car after car after car is filled with this same nausea-inducing smell.  After nine cars, I stumble upon an ideal setup: chairs facing the direction we are headed so that no one gets sick, minimal smell, and few passengers.  Jackpot.  My neuroses prove useful once again.

The four of us sit down, each opting to lounge on our own private vinyl bench.  In the darkness of the station few redeeming features are illuminated under the artificial and harsh fluorescents lining the ceiling.  I look around.  “Who ever thought this color scheme was a good idea?” I say, referring to the dried-blood-red and ocean blue of the seats combined with the faux-wood laminate side panels and sour cream plastic.  “American Airlines,” offers Tommy.  Touché.

Within minutes I am already in stitches.  Between Jon’s drunk/hung-over statements about not talking to him “in his condition” and Tommy’s dry humor relayed with the hint of a Louisiana drawl, I’m nearly on the grime-laden floor laughing.

A girl walks past.  “She looks smelly…” Tommy muses, “… a smell that is not easily identifiable… She probably has dandruff.  Dermatitis.  Halitosis.”  The statement is made with no invitation for commentary; it just sits there, hanging in the air like the anti-septic spray until something else comes along.

Jon looks at me, holding a small plastic container filled with giant slices of raw red onions, soggy parsley flakes, and seven garbanzo beans.  “Why did I get two sides?” he moans.  I feel as though he should be more concerned he just paid four dollars for a portable onion and not something more substantial.  Another row of florescent lights turns on and Jon groans about it being too bright inside and lies down on his bench, disappearing from view.

“He’s not coming back up,” says Tommy, shaking his head and taking bites of a sandwich on whole wheat bread.

The train moves and Jon gets back up, smelling his plaid shirt that reminds me of summer.  Something provokes a bad “That’s what she said!” joke, which Jon quickly follows with “I’m going to shut up right now.”

A man comes through wearing a light blue button-up with white pinstripes that is similar to the one my dad wears at his machine shop.  On his head is a conductor’s cap; something I didn’t even know was still in production these days.  But that’s what’s so nice about trains: the time warp.  As the man walks around, collecting and stamping our tickets by hand, I feel like I’m a part of something old and real.

Jon turns around.  Behind his glasses, his eyes twinkle with excitement and a smile presses his cheeks north bound.  “His name is Giuseppe!  Giuseppe S.!”

Giggles ensue.

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