Fine Arts & Exhibits: Women Take Center Stage in the Reimagining of Dia Galleries

Since taking the helm at Dia in 2015, Ms. Morgan has been envisioning a different status quo for the institution, which had long skewed heavily male. When she arrived, there were only a handful of female artists, including Agnes Martin and Hanne Darboven, in the permanent collection.

Championing the presence of women on the staff and in exhibitions and acquisitions, Ms. Morgan in her short tenure has already made considerable strides toward the gender rebalancing of Dia. She has put together an entirely female curatorial team, including the new deputy director and chief curator, Courtney J. Martin, a 1960s specialist hired away from Brown University, and the associate curator Alexis Lowry, whose focus is on land art.

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Members of the Dia staff, from left: Alexis Lowry, associate curator; Ms. Morgan, the director; Megan Witko, assistant curator; Kelly Kivland, associate curator; Courtney Martin, deputy director and chief curator; and Francesca Lo Galbo, curatorial associate. Credit Gabriela Herman for The New York Times

The British-born director, 49, has commissioned new projects primarily from female artists like Charlotte Posenenske and Joëlle Tuerlinckx in addition to Ms. McBride. And Ms. Morgan has begun a strategic long-term plan to acquire large bodies of work by women made contemporaneously with that by men already well represented at Dia, including John Chamberlain, Fred Sandback, Michael Heiser and Bruce Nauman.

“In Beacon, a large part of what I’ve been doing is expanding the collection, staying explicitly within this period of the ’60s and ’70s where we have this incredible depth and strength, but thinking about the omissions,” said Ms. Morgan, who in her previous job as a curator at Tate Modern in London had become passionate about collection building as a way of grounding her institution. “We’re placing female artists working at that time alongside their peers where they should be.”

Immersive displays of works from the ’60s and ’70s by Joan Jonas, Jo Baer, Anne Truitt and Michelle Stuart are now on long-term view at Beacon and part of the collection. New acquisitions by Dorothea Rockburne and Mary Corse will be installed in the early months of 2018.

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“7000 Oaks” by Joseph Beuys in front of Dia: Chelsea. Dia installed five basalt stone columns, each paired with a type of tree, at 548 West 22nd Street in 1988, continuing the German artist’s larger project. Credit Gabriela Herman for The New York Times

Given the tight focus of the collection, now numbering just over 40 artists, the addition of even several women is noticeable. “Truitt was making these radical minimal forms with sculpture and painting combined in 1961, just at the same time as Judd and Flavin,” Ms. Morgan said.

“Michelle Stuart was as much there as Michael Heiser was,” she said of these two pioneers of land art. “Let’s tell people about that.”

These additions start to break down the monolithic reading of minimalism, said Donna De Salvo, deputy director for international initiatives and senior curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the early 1980s, she was the curator at Dia when the institution had zero women in its collection — which, she pointed out, was not unusual for museums at the time.

“I have great respect for what Dia’s been historically,” said Ms. De Salvo, describing how its support of visionary projects like De Maria’s Lightning Field in western New Mexico and Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Tex., and the presentation of art in large-scale environments on view for a substantial period of time are “something quite different than what a museum often can provide.”

“I’m always looking for the Dia I knew but also the Dia that I felt could be more,” she said. “Jessica’s honored Dia’s legacy yet she’s added some extraordinary artists in a very targeted way. It really shows a much truer picture of how those ideas were interpreted by a variety of different figures, both women and more international artists.”

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