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Dia Beacon’s basement club installation is the night out you've been longing for

World-class DJ Carl Craig’s "party/after-party" commission fulfills a lapse in nightlife, even if it's only temporary.

Collier Sutter
Written by
Collier Sutter

In the cavernous underground space of Dia Beacon’s lower level, techno music reverberates through the dark.

Acclaimed Detroit DJ Carl Craig’s exhibit is hard to miss: purple, blue or red light glows though the doorway beckoning visitors deeper into the museum's underbelly.

Craig’s audio experience installation takes viewers on a sonic journey from the party to the after-party. Music fills the space, building and then dwindles away—like the buzzing rise, and subsequent emotional comedown, inherent to time spent on the dance floor.

Dia Beacon Carl Craig exhibit
Photograph: Eva Deitch/ Dia Beacon

“I make music to satisfy my soul, and when I perform, I invite others into my world," explains Craig. “Similarly, when you step into this vast space, it is like stepping into a reflection of my own mind,” he continues. “The stark parallels between this postindustrial space at Dia and the architecture in my hometown of Detroit, a place that has always catalyzed my creativity, are fascinating to me.”

The exhibition, which Craig worked on with contemporary art museum Dia Beacon over the span of five years, is a reflection of his reality, including “the visual, sonic, and emotional connections or disconnections” that Craig has experienced as a DJ on the road.

“In contrast to the glamorous perception of the touring musician, I wanted to reflect the isolation of the many hours spent alone in hotel rooms and the tinnitus that I, and many other artists, have to contend with as a result of our work.”

Dia Beacon
Photograph: Courtesy Dia Beacon

Craig’s commission was first announced in November 2019 and opened on March 6 to a pre-pandemic world.

On a recent visit to Dia Beacon, reservation-only tickets were spaced out in time slots, masks were required and social distancing was mandatory, something not too difficult to achieve in the sprawling warehouse of the refurbished Nabisco packaging plant.

Standing in the middle of Craig’s pulsating commission downstairs, masked museum visitors were dancing any way they could manage; tapping their feet, finger drumming or shaking their heads to the tempo.

As most New Yorkers haven’t experienced a gritty dance bar or underground club in nearly nine months, the vibrating room was a refreshing throwback to a night out pre-COVID, even without the writhing, sweaty bodies that usually take form at a rave.

There is a lot riding on Carl Craig’s installation at Dia Beacon, but not exclusively because it is one of the first installations in a museum by a techno artist in the United States. 

"Party/Afterparty" has set the tempo for other reopening museums to experiment with installations that can replicate fleeting moments of nightlife, and evoke that same rush you find while together on a dance floor.

In a time when clubs and venues are grimly shut, even a brief, socially-distanced visit to a museum’s basement can fulfill that need for both freedom and communal energy.

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