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Art for art’s sake ... or something

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published October 28. 2013 4:00AM

A much-loved Hunter Thompson anecdote describes an incident where Thompson found himself laughing uproariously at a recording of a stand-up comedian's set - some Lenny Bruce-style political farce. Suddenly, though, Thompson realized it was in fact NOT a comic doing a routine, but rather tape of an actual, serious speech by General Douglas MacArthur.

The remarks were apparently so corn-basted and ideologically over the top - to Thompson, anyway - that he was crushed when he realized he hadn't discovered some new satiric talent worthy of Twain or Swift.

I thought of that during a recent trip my wife, Eileen, and I took through the Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries in the Hudson River Valley - a 300,000-square-foot facility dedicated to long-term installations of post-1960 modern art located in Beacon, N.Y.

It was the (unintentionally) funniest stinkin' thing I've ever seen.

All of the patrons could be described as "darkly contemplative" - the sort of people you want to kick in the knee when they break out leaflets and start to sing free-the-worker songs. As for the staff, most were earnest Young Persons, probably MFA-aged, and all were dressed in ominous variations of black - from the mousy woman in guerilla chic and combat boots to the sweaty hulk who'd stolen what appeared to be Morrissey's pajamas.

Throughout the dozens of installations, my reactions ranged from snorted cackles to irate disbelief to howling delight that so many of these shysters had managed to establish hugely successful careers in the art world - like Bernie Madoffs with paint brushes.

There was a room devoted to several identically sized canvases in varying gradations of white. No images or patterns. Just, ah, white. Ditto for an installation devoted to identically sized canvases in varying gradations of black. Different artists, of course.

It went on and on, room after room after room, and at one point I took a wrong turn and ended up in a shipping/receiving area with several plywood shipping crates. Except ... they weren't shipping crates and it wasn't shipping/receiving. It was more art!

I began to understand why, before we could enter the museum, we were relieved of our shoestrings and sharp objects.

My personal fave? A huge cairn of broken glass. Period. It looked like a wino's bonus-sized collection of recyclable Boone's Farm bottles had fallen off his stolen grocery cart and shattered. The only thing missing was the actual wino, who would assuredly be collapsed in a heap, weeping with loss. I felt similar grief.

You also don't want to miss the "audio installation" piped over speakers in the garden. It consists entirely of what sounds like an aged woman feebly impersonating various and agitated wild birds.

Finally - just so you don't feel stupid - each installation has a helpful "creative statement" placard, where you can learn stuff like, "this epic cycle marks the artist's first sustained engagement with color in its manifold guises." Gotcha.

Tickets to Dia:Beacon are only $12 each - a small price to pay considering Eileen and I now only communicate with one another through bird noises. Ka-hoooooo! Ka-hooooo!

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