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The Urban Traveler’s Day Trip: Beacon, New York

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For asphalt-bound New Yorkers who don’t own a car (as well as those who do), here is an inexpensive summer excursion that will take you 60 miles north of Manhattan into the Hudson Valley’s most surprising center for contemporary art, Beacon, New York. I’ve taken this trip via Metro North with a bunch of women friends and it was one of the highlights of our summer. (To get wonderful views of the Hudson River, sit on the left side of the train when you go upstate, and on the right side when you head back to the city.)

Dia: Beacon, Riggio Galleries, is the “country” wing of Dia: Chelsea which, in 1987, pioneered the stampede of galleries from Soho to the meat packing district when it opened a four-story converted warehouse on West 22nd Street into an exhibition space for its post-1960s art collection.

Fifteen years later, seeking more room, Dia converted an abandoned Nabisco printing plant into 240,000 square feet of space for its museum-quality permanent collection, and by doing so, transformed a sleepy Hudson River town into a thriving arts community.

Dia: Beacon, perched on thirty-one acres along the eastern bank of the Hudson River, and only a five-minute uphill walk from the Metro-North train station, opened to the public in May 2003. It was an instant success, and has attracted visitors from around the world.  (The site is also adjacent to 90 acres of riverfront parkland, including Beacon Landing, a 23-acre peninsula owned by Scenic Hudson, Inc.)

Everything about Dia: Beacon’s renovation is stunning, especially the 34,000 square feet of skylights that flood the art work with beautiful northern light. It’s a pleasure, on a bright summer day, to step into the museum’s vast, high-ceilinged interior space and experience the light as it illuminates the artwork. The collection includes such major artists as: Agnes Martin, Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra (who MOMA has honored with a huge one-man show), Dan Flavin  (who works in neon), and among my favorites, John Chamberlain, who creates sculptures out of crushed automobile parts. Seeing the works of LeWitt, Beuys,  Nauman, Warhol, Ryman and others in this stunning setting, made me appreciate their art even more. Don’t miss Serra’s signature “torqued ellipses” or Fred Sandback’s unique sculptures, created with yarn and space.

Artist Robert Irwin designed the master plan, including its exterior setting, whose gardens and trees form an “outdoor gallery.” His subtle style can be admired while you grab a bite at the café and bookshop, and think about your late afternoon choices.

You can return to the museum, head back to the city or take a tour of downtown Beacon, just a short stroll away. The village has attracted a vibrant new generation of artists and entrepreneurs who have renovated homes, opened galleries, boutiques, restaurants and shops, creating a mini-arts hub that has, in turn, sparked an area renaissance.

If you time your visit to coincide with “Second Saturday Beacon,” downtown Beacon is more festive than usual. Galleries, restaurants and shops stay open until 9 p.m., so you can dine at one of Beacon’s  restaurants and take a later train back to the city. For more information on Second Saturday Beacon go to www.nynarts.com

Dia: Beacon, Summer Hours.  11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday), Mid-April to Mid-October. Dia Beacon is located at 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY. (845-440-0100). For more information go to: www.diabeacon.org and www.diaart.org/dia/visitor

How To Get There:
By Train. It is about 80 minutes from Manhattan’s Grand Central Station via MTA/Metro-North Railroad. Trains run hourly. There is a “One-Day-Getaways” discounted rail and admissions package for Dia. For the current train schedule, call 212-532-4900. For more information go to www.mta.nyc.ny.us  (Click on Metro North and then Click on One Day Getaways, then click on Dia Beacon).

By Car. Located off Route 9D in Dutchess County, the museum is easily reached from the Palisades Parkway, the New York State Thruway, the Taconic State Parkway and Interstate 84. From New York City take the Upper Level of the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey bound, to the Palisades Parkway North. Take the Palisade Parkway North to the end, and continue on 6 East/202 across the Bear Mountain Bridge. Bear left onto Route 9D North and continue into the city of Beacon. Travel three miles through the city; at the fourth traffic light (just past Beacon City Hall) make a left turn onto Beekman Street. Continue past the train station and the overpass leading to the station’s parking lot. Dia: Beacon’s entrance is the first driveway on the right.

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