A Fire Broke Out at Dia:Beacon. Its Cause? An Electrically Powered Minimalist Painting by Mary Corse

The fire was quickly extinguished with minimal damage to the cavernous art museum in the Hudson Valley.

Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries, Beacon, New York. Copyright Dia Art Foundation, New York. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio.

A fire broke out at Dia:Beacon, the sprawling art museum in upstate New York housing large-scale works by the likes of Richard Serra, Michael Heizer, and Walter De Maria. It was caused by a newly acquired work that self-ignited by Mary Corse, the veteran artists associated with the Light and Space movement. While Corse’s painting was damaged, the fire was quickly put out and the cavernous museum and its epic-scale contents escaped serious damage.

The fire started on Saturday (October 20) around 6 p.m. and was extinguished after just over an hour. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, a painting by Corse with an electrical component that overheated caused the blaze on the vast first floor of the art museum, which is housed in a former print works in the Hudson Valley.

Earlier this year, the Dia Art Foundation acquired works by the 75-year-old artist for the first time, unveiling a new gallery alongside those devoted to works by her mainly male contemporaries. Louise Bourgeois’s giant spider is another highlight of the museum created by a female artist.

Corse is one of the few female artists associated with the Light and Space movement that began in the 1960s in Southern California. Her subtle paintings are infused with light either by electricity, ceramic tiles, or glass microspheres. One electrical light piece on view at the Dia:Beacon at the time of the fire is Untitled (Electric Light), though it is unclear which work caused the blaze or whether it will be restored.

According to a Dia statement: “The fire appears to have been caused by an electrical element attached to a work of art by Mary Corse that overheated.” Corse’s work, which is worth $1 million according to the report in Poughkeepsie Journal, was damaged in addition to the wall of the museum on which it was installed.

The fire was brought under control within half an hour. Staff were soon able to go back inside the building. The museum was open the next day for visitors after the damaged painting was deinstalled. The remainder of Corse’s long-term installation remains on view. A related exhibition, “Mary Corse: A Survey in Light” is on view until November 25 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

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