Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Post-Weiss, Post-Riggio, Post-Govan Dia

The resignation of Jeffrey Weiss from Dia was announced via e-mail this morning, another hard hit for a foundation that has seen many of them, and the Times published fairly extensive coverage. It's impossible not to admire his honesty in the press release and Times coverage, in which he basically says that he doesn't think he was an ideal fit for the position of rebuilding Dia's finances and reestablishing a position in New York City.

From the Times: “It took me too far away from curatorial and scholarly work. ... I had an idea that being director of Dia would be different because it is such a small place.” The tricky issue with Dia seems to be this very notion of its scope: it's always been a fairly lean operation that's tackled and achieved idiosyncratic and oftentimes wonderful things. It moved into Chelsea before everyone else, it built and maintains Dia:Beacon relatively cheaply, and has provided vital (if varying and selective) support for contemporary art activities for over three decades. These incredible successes, coupled with the rise of the contemporary art market over the past decade, have set almost unbelievably high expectations for the institution.

What I've always loved about Dia (and - full disclosure - I used to intern for them in a very minor capacity) is their willingness to fund and support the bizarre and unusual. Keeping Walter De Maria's New York Earth Room, The Broken Kilometer, and Lightning Field, not to mention Michael Heizer's City isn't cheap (in terms of both maintenance and opportunity costs for that real estate). The pressures coming from many corners of the art world seem to demand that Dia starting thinking big or go home, an attitude that their board hasn't exactly repudiated, always openly stating their desire to have a permanent foothold in New York City.

After banking almost $40 million on their recent sale of their famed Chelsea building, Dia has the means to start a legitimate fund raising campaign for the space in New York. Indeed, the New Museum pulled off just such a triumph, so we know it's possible (the immediate economic environment perhaps notwithstanding). It's going to need to raise big money if it wants to grasp those enormous ambitions, though, and with Riggio out of the picture (and no major donors immediately in view) that's going to be tricky. Ultimately, it seems they need to develop a coherent rationale for why they need the space. Are they trying to serve as an almost-permanent temple for the group of minimalists and conceptualists that rose to fame in the 1960's and 1970's that their founders collected (and are being remembered as the newest - and perhaps last - Greatest Generation in art history) that their founders collected, or do they want to actively engage upcoming and mid-career artists as they've done recently with the video work of Sadie Bennings and the wonderful Francis Alÿs exhibit at the Hispanic Society of America? For now, I'm hoping for the second option. (It also seems like it would be easier to raise money for these more public activities, though that's conjecture.)

Tyler Green points out that three major New York art centers are now in need of directors: the Met, the Guggenheim, and Dia. The first two are guaranteed to emerge from their search intact (and, in the case of the Guggenheim, almost any shift would be an improvement of their current direction). But Dia is in a more precarious position. While the Times and many art professionals still focus their attention on its every move, it's a name that hardly has the cachet of many of its 'competitors' (particularly the New Museum, after its all-out media blitz). If Dia's board decides to pursue the goals that so many are hoping they will they're going to have to act quickly. Surely there must be some abandoned warehouses sitting across the East River waiting to be snatched up.

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