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
"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
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.