Reflections from NYC’s Field Trip

Passing Through: Moments in Art and Education at Dia: Beacon

By Lauren Jacobs, AIE 2005

On Saturday August 11th, a group of AIE alumni organized by NYC Co-Regional Coordinators Aliza Greenberg and Carissa Johnson hopped into a rented van and headed up the scenic Palisades Parkway for a day of discovery at Dia: Beacon, a contemporary art museum in a quaint upstate town. Our visit was hosted with aplomb by Arts Education Associate & AIE alumna April Lee, and we were fortunate to be joined by Dr. Shari Tishman, Professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Director of Project Zero. Together, we toured the museum, heard a gallery talk, and spent the day talking to each other not just about art, but about what it means to look at and think about art in an artful way.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Dia is a prefix coming from the Greek, meaning “passing through.” And what an incredible space to pass through! The architecture of the building itself, which is a former Nabisco printing factory, is astounding: Huge skylights above, enormous open spaces within, passages you can look directly through from one side of the building to the other. “At one point as we walked through part of the thoughtfully planned outdoor landscape I remarked, “Let’s just enjoy this incredible view; forget the art!” and April replied, “Well, this is the art!” Moreover, the museum’s holdings include a phenomenal maze of larger-than-life contemporary art from the 1960’s to the present.

Opus + One is the first comprehensive exhibition in North America devoted to objects created over the past two decades by Paris-based artist Jean-Luc Moulène. In order to approach the exhibit, we utilized Artful Thinking routines. These routines, which are available on the Project Zero website, target different types of thinking and enable individuals and groups to explore art in new and thoughtful ways. Structures include “What makes you say that?” “Think/Puzzle/Explore” “I used to think…Now I think…” and “See/Think/Wonder” and each routine helped us to delve deeper into the artwork than we may have been able to otherwise.

Next was an adventurous journey through Richard Serra’s enormous twenty ton rolled-steel sculptures, inspired by his visit to Zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan in 1970. Issues we explored together here included: The limiting and torquing of our vision, voices, and movement; the constant re-aligning of our expectations, and the consideration of the paths we walk in our everyday lives.

Finally, we were lucky to have the opportunity to listen to Christoph Cox’s talk about the aural piece Time Piece Beacon, a 2006 sound installation by Max Neuhaus, which utilizes hidden speakers to gradually induct its listeners into its aura for seven minutes every hour. Cox first introduced the piece; we then listened to it as a group and discussed our reactions, which included confusion at the beginning about whether it had in fact started, interest and fascination as the piece subtly built to crescendo, and a mix between disappointment and excitement as the end of the piece coincided exactly with the blaring of a train horn as it passed close by.

The entire day at was filled with wondering, questioning, exploring, and enjoying the wide range of artistic delights that are provided for the thoughtful visitor to Dia: Beacon. After the excursion, April remarked, “It was such a rich experience for me to be in the space with educators who are so open to the concepts in the works on view, and who are interested in actively investigating how learning happens in different contexts! We were confident in our ability to engage with even the conceptually difficult Jean-Luc Moulène exhibition, using gentle Artful Thinking prompts which helped us to build upon our prior knowledge.” Shari added, “It was such a pleasure to spend the day in such a very special place with such an extremely special group of people.” I couldn’t agree more.

For further exploration:

Dia: Beacon, part of the Dia Art Foundation, is joined by Dia: Chelsea and other gallery spaces and exhibits in NYC, including a sound exhibit in the heart of Times Square.

Lauren Jacobs is the Co-Regional Coordinator for the NYC Continuing the Conversation cohort.