Dia: Beacon, Minimal Art and Beyond

Over spring break, I went to the Dia outpost in Beacon, New York.  Dia is an art foundation that shows minimal and post-minimal sculpture and painting from the 60s and beyond.  The collection at Dia: Beacon is housed in an expansive renovated warehouse.  While there, I saw a number of pieces that reminded me of readings and lectures from our class.

First was a piece by Bruce Nauman entitled, Body Pressure (1974).  This piece invited spectators to become participants in an interactive performance that provided instructions about how to merge one’s body with an architectural surface.  The piece took a material form as posters with the instructions typed out, stacked into large cube-like forms.  Similar to the Felix Gonzalas-Torres poster stacks, which we discussed earlier in the semester, Nauman’s piece evokes minimal sculpture from the previous decade, but makes explicit the implicit theatricality of minimal art (according to Michael Fried in “Art and Objecthood”).  The interactivity of Nauman’s piece also reminded me of “Relational Aesthetics,” and some of the artists grouped into that movement.  Bourriaud statement about work from the 90s, also seems to ring true for Nauman’s interactive performance.  “…[I]t is no longer possible to regard the contemporary work as a space to be walked through…It is henceforth presented as a period of time to be lived through, like an opening to an unlimited discussion” (Relational Aesthetics 15).  The dependence of this piece on participation from the supposed spectator, also brings to mind Deleuze’s description of art in Essays Critical and Clinical. “Art is defined…as an impersonal process in which the work is composed somewhat like a cairn, with stones carried in by different voyagers and beings in becoming (rather than ghosts) that may or may not depend on a single author” (66).

Another piece I saw there was a series of large sculptures by Richard Serra called Torqued Ellipses (1997).  There are five sculptures in this piece, each made of a wall of steel that curves around to create a cylinder or spiral shape.  The viewer is encouraged to enter these structures, and experience them from both the outside and inside.  Given the material (industrial, rustic steel) and the irregularity of the forms (the cylinders create irregular angles), one notices several changes in sensation upon entering the sculpture.  The temperature drops, and one’s perspective becomes disoriented while winding around a narrow path that seems to be increasingly closing in.  The experience of walking through these sculptures reminded me of out discussion about Cezanne, and the Deleuze essay, “Percept, Affect, and Concept” in What is Philosophy? In talking about Cezanne’s landscapes, Deleuze includes a quote: “ “Man absent from but entirely within the landscape’” (169).  In Serra’s work too, the content is the relationship between the subject and the object, between the work, or the artist, and the spectator.  Both artists present us with a landscape but one illustrated through perceptions.  In Serra though, our perception goes beyond sight and becomes a physical sensation, which requires that we move through a space.  This work, as a “thrust of metal,” is a perfect illustration of Deleuze’s description of sensations that are independent of an object.  “We paint, sculpt, and write with sensations.  We paint, sculpt, and write sensations.  As percepts, sensations are not perceptions referring to an object (reference): if they resemble something it is with a resemblance produced with their own methods…The material is so varied…that it is difficult to say where in fact the material ends and sensation begins” (166).

I was also thinking about our brief discussion about minimal music while looking at the Donald Judd pieces (http://www.diabeacon.org/exhibitions/introduction/85), and about the limits of painting while looking at Robert Ryman paintings (http://www.diabeacon.org/exhibitions/introduction/94).  There are also a few sculpture/”paintings” by Gerhard Richter (http://www.diabeacon.org/exhibitions/main/93).  Well worth the trip.

Hilary Price

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