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.
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.