Friday, September 11, 2015

Dia:Beacon: Getting Into Robert Irwin's Excursus: Homage to the Square3

by Drew Martin
Dia:Beacon is one of the best places to contemplate some of the most important contemporary art. It has the space and solitude it needs to exhibit large works that other museums simply could not manage. The rooms devoted to Richard Serra, for example, are magnificent and his works there are breathtaking.

Dia:Beacon is only an hour or so from my house but it seems too far of a trip to casually make. Prior to yesterday I had only been once before but I was driving back to the New Jersey from a funeral of an artist in Connecticut and so it was a place to stop and remember this fellow, as it was on the way home.

I could write about this museum forever, but I want to bring attention to a current exhibit (up for two years) by Robert Irwin, the artist who designed the transformation of the museum space from an old box factory to what it is today.

Excursus: Homage to the Square
by Irwin is the kind of installation that a viewer might typically walk through in a minute and sigh "I get it" or "I don't get it" with the same apathetic tone. It consists of 18 ghostly scrimmed rooms that lead into one other at the corner posts. In the center of each translucent/partly transparent wall is a lit vertical florescent tube (four to a room) which are identically accented with colored gels in each room, but are slightly differ from one room to the next. The effect departs from the influence for the piece - Josef Alber's original color study series - and enters the realm of coded language somewhere between a visual Morse code and lightning bug signals. They are mysterious light spectra that could be the readings of the gases of distant stars or some kind of emotional feelings.

The scrimmed walls allow you to see all the way through the exhibit but at the same time they also have the illusion that they are reflecting what is behind you, which plays with one's depth perception - a sensation that Irwin wants you to experience, but not obviously. 

While the cubic structure of the space is a simple arrangement, it has a maze-like complexity. This labyrinth is not constructed with a no-way-out design but rather by a mesmerizing gravity that pulls you back in. The rooms are structurally identical but their arrangement within the whole installation means that some are on the perimeter, while the others are totally interior. Dia:Beacon's press release for the installation says there is no beginning, middle or end but this is not exactly right. There is no particular place to enter or exit but it begins as you approach it and ends once you leave the installation. In the middle there is no duration. It is a timeless space that extends into an infinite future.

The first time I saw it yesterday I walked by rather quickly, but then I returned and spent well over a half an hour in the space. And then I returned again to spend more time. It is meticulously constructed with the perfectly taut scrim, which is precisely stapled to the thin wood stripping (painted white) that define the perimeter of the walls. All the staples on the sides of the doors are vertical and evenly distanced from one another. All the staples on the top of the doors are horizontal. On the top corners, the staples are at 45-degree angles, leaning toward the open space. It is a detail that marries the intention of the artist with the care of the museum staff and the respect of the viewer.

Excursus: Homage to the Squareis best to experience when you are alone, void of other museum goers, but that being said, it does change the space in an interesting way when there are other people present, and it would be interesting to explore with someone you intimately know; to lose and find and lose and find again in this overlapping place of time and space.