Robert Irwin’s design for Dia Beacon, Beacon Project (1999–2003), is the artist’s second collaboration with Dia Art Foundation, following Prologue: x183 (1998) and Excursus: Homage to the Square3 (1998/2015). Conceiving of Dia Beacon as a work of art in and of itself, Irwin made subtle interventions into the building’s lighting and developed a symmetrical floorplan to ensure that the galleries are presented nonhierarchically and without a single overarching historical or chronological narrative. Specifically envisioned for the display of the works in Dia’s collection, Irwin’s design maintains the character of the original structure—with the sole addition of an entry vestibule—and ensures that Dia Beacon’s expansive galleries are entirely lit by natural light.
The artist envisioned the museum as a “sequence of experiences” including riding the linear corridor of the Metro North railway up the Hudson River from Grand Central Station in New York City and descending into Dia Beacon’s parking lot. Taking Beacon’s local horticulture and seasonal light conditions—as well as the former Nabisco factory’s architecture—into consideration, Irwin’s design for the landscape surrounding Dia Beacon incorporates indigenous plants that bloom throughout the year. Considering the possible ambulatory paths one could take through the grounds, Irwin designed a garden on the museum’s west side to serve as a bridge between otherwise unconnected parts of the building.
On May 18, 2003, Dia Art Foundation opened Dia Beacon on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, New York, in a former Nabisco box printing factory. 20 years later, on the occasion of Dia Beacon’s anniversary, Dia presents a film about Robert Irwin’s transformation of the former factory.
Conceiving of Dia Beacon as a work of art in and of itself, Irwin made subtle interventions into the building’s lighting and developed a symmetrical floorplan to ensure that the galleries are given equal importance and presented without a single overarching historical or chronological narrative.
The original building had many key design elements that made it an appealing site for contemporary art, including broad spans between supporting columns and more than 34,000-square-feet of skylights. Today these skylights provide natural light in the galleries and have uniquely established Dia Beacon as a “daylight museum.” Irwin also designed seasonally changing gardens throughout the surrounding landscape. Following the renovation, Dia Beacon was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Support provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies
Interviews: Rachel Wolff and Jonathan Sanden
Story editing: Rachel Wolff
Filming: Noah Therrien and Jonathan Sanden
Editing: Stephen Parnigoni
Music: roeaudionews, courtesy of Jamendo
Dia Art Foundation Staff
Producers: Katherine Ellis and Dan Wolfe
Copyediting: Anya Szykitka
Rights and Reproductions: Jenn Kane
Curator: Alexis Lowry
© 2023 Dia Art Foundation
Works by Robert Irwin © 2023, Robert Irwin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Special thanks to Bob Irwin and the Robert Irwin Studio.
Robert Irwin was born in Long Beach, California, in 1928. He studied at the Otis Art Institute (1948–50), Jepson Art Institute (1951), and Chouinard Art Institute (1952–54), all in Los Angeles. He has exhibited widely in North America and abroad, including recent presentations at Secession in Vienna (2013), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2013), Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (2012), and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2009). In 1993 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles initiated a major retrospective of his work that subsequently traveled to Paris, Madrid, and Cologne. The largest exhibition of Irwin’s work since, Robert Irwin: Primaries and Secondaries, was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego from 2007 to 2008. His most notable texts are included in the book Notes toward a Conditional Art (2011). Irwin died in San Diego, California, in 2023.
Robert Irwin was born in Long Beach, California, in 1928. He died in San Diego, California, in 2023.