Make Dia free!

Dia: Chelsea is relocating

to become Dia: Meatpacking, anchoring the southern end of the High

Line redevelopment. The New York Times quotes Michael Govan, Dia’s director:

Plans call for building a simple two-story museum with 45,000 square feet

of gallery space on two floors… The main galleries would extend over part

of the Gansevoort Meat Market, contiguous with and at the same level as the

High Line.

"You will be able to enter the main level of the museum from the High

Line," Mr. Govan said…

So far, Mr. Govan said, about half of the necessary money has been committed,

contingent on the project’s approval. He estimated that the new museum would

cost about $35 million to build and that Dia would need $20 million for an

endowment to run it.

We’re also told that Dia had grown out of its Chelsea location, due to the

high number of visitors it was attracting: 60,000 a year.

The City of New York owns the lot that Dia is moving to, and supports the plan

to put a private museum at the entrance to a new public park. But given that

the city is providing the land for the museum, I think it’s only fair that they

should ask for something in exchange – to wit, that Dia should be completely

free to the general public, like the Tate

in London.

Admission at Dia: Chelsea, as I recall, was $6. If all of the 60,000 visitors

paid $6 to get in – which many of them didn’t – Dia was grossing

$360,000 a year in admissions revenues. The all-in cost of collecting those

revenues – having a couple of people sitting at the front desk full-time,

managing the cash, etc etc – probably brought the net revenues down to

maybe a couple of hundred thousand a year. If Dia wants a $20 million endowment

to run Dia: Meatpacking, I reckon it should be able to find a few hundred thousand

per year to replace whatever amount of money it might intend to make on admissions.

If there was a real will to make Dia: Meatpacking an integral part of the Highline

experience, as opposed to a museum leveraging the foot traffic that the Highline

will generate, I’m sure it could make itself free without too much difficulty.

The two could work wonderfully together: Dia could drive traffic up the Highline,

possibly towards destination

galleries in Chelsea, while the Highline

would help deliver and introduce a whole new public to hard-edged contemporary


But I suspect that it’s not going to happen, and that the main reason it’s

not going to happen is entirely due to snobbishness. Dia likes being in out-of-the-way

places. It moved to Chelsea when there was relatively little going on there;

the De Maria pieces in Soho are hard to find and were even more so when they

were built; and Beacon, of course, is a long schlep up the Hudson from Manhattan.

And all of those are positively easy to get to when compared to De Maria’s Lightning

Field. The end result is a series of quiet and solemn places which exist to

serve the art above all – certainly above the public.

Dia has never advertised. When Dia: Beacon opened, Govan told

me that he really didn’t care whether 50,000 people or 200,000 people would

visit per year. The foundation serves the art, and if people want to see the

art that’s fine; if they don’t, that’s fine too. It’s just not in Dia’s DNA

for the gallery to open up its spaces to the general public, with its iPods

and rollerblades and chewing gum and utter obliviousness to the subtleties of

Robert Irwin installations.

But it’s entirely Dia’s choice to move to the trendiest neighborhood in Manhattan,

right on the rapidly-developing waterfront, to a lot which seems designed to

maximise the amount of foot traffic that will walk past it. Dia clearly wants

a higher public profile, which will inevitably mean much more interaction with

the general public than it has had in the past. It should take this opportunity

to embrace that public, and bring its art to the masses.

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13 Responses to Make Dia free!

  1. Good overview of the Dia’s plan’s for Meatpacking District museum

    Good overview of the Dia’s plan’s for Meatpacking District museum…

  2. says:

    I think they should charge $20 and offer a money-back guarantee. No, I kid.

    The Met is built on publicly owned land, which is one of the reasons it has a “suggested admission price” of $12 or whatever it is now. But given that their cash registers have buttons for $1, $0.25, and $0.01, you can guess what a lot of visitors choose to pay.

  3. Brian Sholis says:

    Michael Govan et al. may very well be snobbishÛand we can debate the merits of that stanceÛbut itÌs almost certain that Dia had little to do with the conception of projects like the Lightning Field. I seriously doubt that De Maria said, ÏI want to put 400 steel poles in the ground, but I simply donÌt know where,Ó in conversation with Heiner Friedrich… (comment continues–though this is the meat of it–on my site)

  4. Dan says:

    > When Dia: Beacon opened, Govan told me that he really didn’t care whether 50,000 people or 500,000 people would visit per year. The foundation serves the art, and if people want to see the art that’s fine; if they don’t, that’s fine too.

    Sounds pretty alright to me, considering some of the .

  5. Michelle Vaughan says:

    I don’t believe Michael Govan doesn’t care about visitor numbers. I know it’s all about the art but people still need to interact with the work. You don’t relocate down to the most trendoid neighborhood in lower Manhattan to be obscure… there is loads of foot traffic in that area now and a museum space which brings the public up on to the Highline is going to have many, many visitors.

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