Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Relaxed August

(Note: Br Bernard is on vacation at the present time, and he normally provides the link between this blog and the Holy Cross Monastery web page. During the time that link may not always be up to date - it may have an introduction to a post that is out of date. But I will be posting regularly and if you come to this space by the link from the HCM web site, just click on the link and you'll get the most recent post - even if it isn't always described accurately).

We're now in a lovely place in our yearly cycle: the pressure is almost completely off. The retreat is over, and while it is wonderfully quiet and open, it has its own set of demands. Now we are just free to enjoy our place and our time.

We have a relaxed liturgical schedule: Matins, Mass and Vespers each day. Edward, our chef, is away on his vacation, so we are cooking for each other, and we have only one communal meal daily. It's really lovely to provide each other with food, and to see what sorts of things each of us is interested in getting together (most years my contribution is to organize a Chinese take-out evening - there's a quite decent place locally, and the community seems to enjoy this event - at least I usually get inquiries about whether we are going to "do it again this year".) The community is quite gracious in its appreciation of the food that each of us provides, and this is also nourishing for our life together.

Some of us choose to do vacation time during these weeks. Randy has gone to see his family in Texas and will stop in Atlanta on his way home to visit with good friends from the days when he worked as a Youth Leader in that city. Bernard left yesterday to have time with his family in Belgium. So we're smaller, which means quieter, as well as more informal.

And then some of us use this time to do some exploring in the local area. And so it was that on Saturday a small group of us had an expedition that I've wanted to do for several years; we went to see the new museum of contemporary art in Beacon, operated by the Dia Foundation which does all sorts of interesting projects with modern art in this part of the world.

Dia Beacon has to rank as one of the most ambitious and interesting art projects that I have ever seen. It's in an old Nabisco factory (actually it was a printing plant for producing product boxes, I think) and it's huge. The plant itself is an very interesting example of industrial architecture, and belongs to the era when factories were being designed with a more humanistic eye. In this case, the building was quite consciously constructed to be well-lit; it has a multitude of north-facing windows in a sort of clerestory location - up towards the ceiling, and that provides the perfect light for a project such as this museum. The size of the place means that they can concentrate on monumental works to a larger extent that any other museum I have seen. The cost of building a new building of this scope would be prohibitive for most pocket books these days, but here was this lovely old factory just sitting there unused, and wonderful thought has been given as to how the various rooms and spaces could be used for the display of art. Somebody had a really creative eye when they looked at that abandoned building and saw a potential art museum.

For instance, there is a room for a work of Andy Worhal that is called "Shadows". It's a series of panels that are reflections of the same two basic shapes, each panel worked out in different colors and treatments and the panels cover the walls of a huge room. The original work was 124 panels and this room, as sizable it is, only has room for 72 of them, but it's enough to give you the idea, certainly. The amount of space in this room makes it possible just to rest in the center and see these reflections of the basic idea spread out all around you. It's quite unlike anything I have seen in more conventional museum spaces.

There is also a series of "negative sculptures" - essentially holes in the ground - that explore the concept of making sculptures by emptying space instead of filling it up. There are also some very large steel structures that you can explore inside and out, including a spiral one that opens up to a wonderful interior space that none of us wanted to leave once we had gotten in there. And there is much, much more.

We were there for several hours and even then didn't see the whole collection. But we came to the time that we had done as much looking as we were capable of. The works we saw were accessible, not in the sense that you necessarily "understood" what they were about in an intellectual way, but in the sense that they draw out from you a reaction. Being in the presence of this sort of art is fairly demanding emotional work. And after a certain amount of time we were just worn out. But the stuff is compelling enough that after I had decided to quit I came across a couple of more galleries that couldn't be ignored. And still I hadn't seen it all. That's got to be intentional, of course. It means I will get back there. I certainly will. I'm already thinking of friends who I can get to go with me, because I know they will react as deeply to the place as I do.

It's marvelous to have this sort of thing in this part of the Hudson Valley, which has not been much of a cultural mecca, to say the least. But it's a very encouraging sign that there are people who are interesting in feeding the soul in this way, and willing to do what must have been an enormous amount of work (involving an equally large amount of money) to get this project organized. What a gift to have this available to us in our local area. And what a gift that we take the time each year to be fed in this way. It's part of our vocation to explore the depths of the spirit within us, and I have been deepened in that exploration by my day at Dia.

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