Focused Survey of Conceptual Artist Charles Gaines to Open at Dia Beacon on February 19, 2021

For Immediate Release
February 5, 2021

New York, NY, February 5, 2021 – Charles Gaines has been interrogating the way meaning is constructed through lyrical, system-based works since the 1970s, when he began incorporating the grid as a central formal device in his work. A key figure in the development of Conceptual art, Gaines analyzes, overlaps, and juxtaposes different systems of representation—mathematical, photographic, linguistic, notational—in order to reveal moments of individual fallacy and collective poignancy. Following Dia’s recent acquisition of a body of work by Gaines, this focused, collection-based survey brings together the artist’s first mathematically determined grid drawings and early experiments with transcribing photographic images into numerical notations, alongside more recent investigations into how image, identity, and language are represented and deconstructed. 

“For Gaines, the concept, deliberations, and accidents of the work’s making are all crucial to the result. This convergence of the systematic and the aleatory or random creates space for new dialogues and unexpected forms of understanding,” said Alexis Lowry, curator, and Ashanti Chaplin, curator of public engagement. “The addition of these key works by Gaines to Dia’s collection deepens the institution’s focused exploration of Conceptual art.” 

Gaines began incorporating the grid into his work—an important formal device in modern art movements such as Minimalism—in the early 1970s. In conversation with artists who he first encountered in New York City, such as Hanne Darboven and Sol LeWitt (with whom he developed a close friendship), Gaines began using serial calculations and systematic procedures to create work that at once resists subjective expression and cultivates ambiguity. As the artist explains, “I looked for tropes, like mathematics, that do not privilege the creative unconscious. Through ‘systems’ I could go where the imagination couldn’t and bring things that otherwise would not be thought about to light. Out of this I began using the grid.” 

Gaines’s first grid works, the Regression series, consists of four groups of seven drawings each determined by a set of mathematical combinations whose values are transcribed onto grids and recalibrated into abstract shapes. A cascading computational system of numbers generates the works and produces forms that sequentially expand and contract like waves. Abstraction and order converge in these drawings, which prefigure the artist’s later interests in speech and sound. Taking Regression: Drawings #1–7, Group #2 (recently acquired by Dia) as its point of departure, this exhibition explores the complex production of meaning that emerges in Gaines’s metonymical practice.

Alongside the Regressions, Dia will present selections from Gaines’s Walnut Tree Orchard, Faces, and Shadows series. In the wake of Gaines’s first experimentations with the grid, these works use color-coded numerical extrapolations of photographs that are layered into gridded drawings. What begins as indexical mapping crescendos into an abstraction, which belies the technical precision and presumed objectivity of the photographic form and creates space for multiple representational structures to exist at once.

Since the early 2000s, Gaines’s practice has come to encompass sculpture, video, sound, and performance. He continues to probe the liminal space that emerges from the juxtaposition of different structures of meaning, particularly music and language. However, these newer works reveal an increased and explicit preoccupation with the complex relationship between aesthetics and social justice. Dia’s exhibition will include a work from Gaines’s Librettos: Manuel de Falla/Stokeley Carmichael series, which plots the text of a Carmichael speech over the score for de Falla’s tragic opera La vida breve (1904–05). Black Ghost Blues Redux (2008), a video work made by Gaines in collaboration with Hoyun Son, will be accessible on Dia’s website throughout the run of the exhibition.

About Charles Gaines
Born in 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina, and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Charles Gaines graduated with a degree in fine art from Jersey City State College in 1966. The following year, he received his MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, where he developed interests in alternative modes of image making, spanning Buddhist diagrams to John Cage-inspired chance operations. An influential pedagogical figure, Gaines has taught at CalArts in Santa Clarita, California, since 1989. His practice has extended into critical writing and curatorial projects. These include the exhibition Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism, organized by Gaines for the University of California, Irvine, in 1993. Amid heightened discussions of difference and identity in contemporary art at the time, Gaines’s exhibition examined the cultural conditions circumscribing African American artists.

Dia Art Foundation 
Taking its name from the Greek word meaning “through,” Dia was established in 1974 with the mission to serve as a conduit for artists to realize ambitious new projects, unmediated by overt interpretation and uncurbed by the limitations of more traditional museums and galleries. Dia’s programming fosters contemplative and sustained consideration of a single artist’s body of work and its collection is distinguished by the deep and longstanding relationships that the nonprofit has cultivated with artists whose work came to prominence particularly in the 1960s and ’70s. 

In addition to Dia Beacon, Dia Bridgehampton, and Dia Chelsea, Dia maintains and operates a constellation of commissions, long-term installations, and site-specific projects, notably focused on Land art, nationally and internationally. These include: 

  • Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room (1977) and The Broken Kilometer (1979), Max Neuhaus’s Times Square (1977), and Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks, inaugurated in 1982 and ongoing), all of which are located in New York City
  • De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977) in western New Mexico
  • Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in the Great Salt Lake, Utah
  • Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–76) in the Great Basin Desert, Utah
  • De Maria’s The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977) in Kassel, Germany


For additional information or materials, contact:
Hannah Gompertz, Dia Art Foundation,, +1 212 293 5598
Melissa Parsoff, Parsoff Communications,, +1 516 445 5899 (US press inquiries)  
Sam Talbot,, +44 (0) 772 5184 630 (international press inquiries)




Get Dia News

Receive Dia News and be the first to hear about events and exhibitions happening at our locations and sites.