by Lindsey Jancay
There is a man at Dia Beacon who wears his pants too short. He has messy hair and a perpetually vacant look in his eyes. He walks with his hands behind his back and when he stops to ask the women wandering the gallery if they have any questions, he looks only at their shoes. Perhaps he is looking at their hemlines.
This man has no name as far as anyone knows. He doesn't look like a Michael or a John or a Theodore. He just seems to exist, nameless as the space in which he stands-a gray space made of concrete, meant to highlight the art kept there. The room where he keeps vigil is one that visitors tend to pass through quickly.
Downstairs, the rooms are dark. There are installations with lights that flash provocative words and images. People like to see how long they can last down there-how jaded and artistic they can prove themselves to be. Upstairs, in the gray space, there are wooden cubes and there is yarn. The man with short pants can answer any question about the wooden cubes and the red yarn. He cannot tell anyone about the fluorescence downstairs. It's apparent that he does not care to.
The only people who take extra time in the gray room, looking at every surface of each cube are the ones who want to see what this man sees. When they cannot, and the cubes are just cubes made of wood, they wonder how a man who can't see his white socks peeking from his pant legs can see the artistry in this form. It seems like an injustice. These people then look to the yarn. It is red against one wall then it is green against another-a small, festive burst of color in the gray. The yarn is strung up to be the shape of large polygons, and its shadow is more interesting than the yarn itself.
One of these indignant people is a woman named Carol. She is not a frequent visitor to the gallery. Instead, she spends most nights in front of her outdated computer scanning the Internet for any sort of distraction, which is how she comes across Dia Beacon. The pixeled pictures of its high, metal ceilings and dented, glossy floor convince her to get up early one morning and drive two hours to see them herself. Upon arriving, she is not certain where to start. Carol ends up in the grey room with the wood and yarn.
The man, whose pants are still too short, looks at Carol's feet, but she pretends not to notice him. Instead she acts as though she has finally noticed what is so exceptional about the cubes. She self-consciously lets a smile play across her lips and squints her eyes at them. She stands like that for a moment and then shakes her head as if she is being told a good, clean joke, and walks away.
Walking past the man who wears his pants too short, Carol tries to look as though she has a destination in mind-maybe downstairs. The man signals for her attention as she passes. He has tuned his back to the displays and looks out the dusty grid of windowpanes that makes up the one wall.
"You want to see something?" He doesn't look at her face but he doesn't look at her feet either. Carol says yes because she doesn't want to seem rude.
"Look out the window. Do you see art?" She looks, squints the same way she squinted at the cube, but sees only a gravel path and a plot of grass with dead spots and fairy rings. She wants to say yes, that she sees, but can't, so she doesn't say anything at all.
"Do you see something sparkling?" The man prompts her. She tilts her head now, squinting and working to look like she's trying to see the art he claims to exist, but she is inside the gallery, and so is the artwork. Looking outside seems pointless to her. She feels like she is looking through her computer screen. Carol dips her head in embarrassment, and there-the reflection of the sun catches her eye. A gem shines from the middle of the field. She traces it to what seems like a little stick, stuck in the ground, the jewel on top of it. Once she sees one, she begins to see many. The field is full of them and she wonders how she didn't see them sooner and why there weren't photos of this online.
Carol looks at the man next to her. He is still looking out the window.
"They're real diamonds. The artist took diamonds, stuck them on tiny rods and into the ground. They're pretty difficult to see, most people don't even notice." He walks away. She keeps looks out the window, and thinks about diamonds. They remind her of promises.
The sun has disappeared behind some clouds and no longer reflects off the gems. It is as if they never existed. Carol wants to see them again, get a good look at how they are dispersed throughout the field, but eventually, she moves on, walking past the wooden blocks and stepping through the yarn polygon carefully. She leaves the man with the short pants behind her.
Carol walks through a room with white canvases-all simply white. She picks up the information card and reads that the artist cared about how the paint was applied to the canvas. She also learns that the artist is dead. Carol holds the laminated text in her hand and wonders if the dead artist paints white in the afterlife. She sits in that room for a while, mainly because it has a seat- gray like the last room. Pulling a few tissues out of her worn purse, she tentatively wipes her nose with one, and wonders why white?
In the corner of the white room there is a man completely dressed in black. He has expensive leather shoes on, and he carries around a walkie-talkie. He hits the button to speak and asks if anyone is available to cover his lunch break. Carol looks back to the canvases on the walls. The more she stares, the less white they become. Instead she begins to see hints of blue or gray or green. When she moves to look from the corner of her eye, though, the canvases seem to disappear, completely blending with the white walls.
The man in the corner begins to shift uncomfortably. He must be used to the silence, so it is something else that is making him move his weight around. Carol can't help but think that it might be her making the man uneasy. She is not doing what people usually do in this room. Carol looks through the doorway. A couple is standing outside of it reading the artist's bio just like she did. One of them is feigning interest, she's sure of it, but both are so convincing that she cannot tell which one. The woman is small and looks sweet when she tilts her head toward the man. She looks up at him through her lashes and tucks her hair behind her ear with a ringed hand. He doesn't notice the eyes of either woman. Carol tucks her tissues into her coat pocket and stands, hoping that she is as convincing as the two of them.
Carol follows the dented wood grain on the floors into a room with no person in the corner. This space is white too, but the canvases in it are not. She stands in the middle of the room and turns in a circle. Around her are moderately sized canvases, black and blue, with white dates carefully painted on them. Some of the days are familiar to Carol, others, not. A few of the paintings hold dates in different languages and she is not sure what to make of them at all.
She can see the man with short pants leaning against a wall in the gray room, but the doorway that she stands in blocks his vision of her. He pulls himself away from the wall and stands straight. There is a girl walking past the window. He looks at her feet and motions her to go back to it. Carol watches as they stare out. The girl tilts and dips her head just like Carol did. Then, the girl steps back, pauses for a moment, and bends over, putting her face almost against the glass. She sees it. It is then that Carol realizes the man with the short pants is not looking at the diamond field, he is looking at the girl. His body moves forward when hers does, it shifts to the side when she leans a foot back.
Carol's observation is interrupted by business-like footsteps coming quickly. She steps out of the doorway to let a woman dressed in black walk through. The woman is young but has an air of age-the kind of age that comes from working long nights and smoking because it looks nice when one puffs the air from matte lips. Her face is scrunched up with a grimace, which makes her seem uncomfortable. The hard walking woman is halfway through the room with dates on the walls now, and Carol turns to see a dark scarf reaching out behind her as it clings to her neck. Carol decides this woman is a terrifying sort of woman.
She looks down at her own clothing and thinks that she should have worn black. If she had, she, too, could walk around purposefully. She would burst into one of the quiet spaces, and take in the artwork that way. Then, there would be no pressure to seem as though She sees the mastery. There would be no need to see the art at all. It could be assumed that Carol had seen it plenty and understood it better than most. She would never have to smile hesitantly or squint her eyes.
She figures it is time to venture downstairs. The people in black who stand on the buffed floor are beginning to recognize her, and she worries that they will also recognize her squint and smile. Carol likes that the downstairs is dark. No one knows what color she is wearing, and no one can see her attempts to appear understanding. The art down there-the sexy, fluorescent lights that flash"Vacancy" and"Danger" and trashy images-make her stomach clench a little. She is thankful for the guttural reactions because they replace the fake ones. When she is exhausted, Carol wanders back upstairs and through the gray room. The man with short pants is not there, so she pauses by the window and tries to see more diamonds, but it has begun to rain.
She notices that the stomach clenching may, in part be the effect of hunger, and leaves the gallery through the heavy gray doors that are marked"Staff Only." Usually, she would not dare to go through a restricted door, but the neon has made her bold. Plus, the general exit goes outside and she does not have an umbrella. The door opens up to a café and bookstore and Carol tries to close it without drawing the attention of the severe, silk scarf-wearing lady behind the receptionist's desk. Carol steps behind one of the bookshelves and runs her pointer finger across the tops of the books. It catches on the particularly tall ones. Carol chooses one that feels nice over ones with interesting content because she does not intend to read the book, only to hold it.
Settling the book's spine into the palm of her hand, she lets the pages heavily separate. She casts her eyes toward them, but peeks up just as the woman in the date room did with her partner. Carol looks through her lashes at the tables lined against a window wall where gallery visitors sit and eat their expensive deli wraps. Even their chewing seems thoughtful. Some read newly purchased books while others write or draw aggressively. At the very last table sits the man with short pants. He does not have a book or a pen or an expensive meal. He simply sits, staring back at her with the same look she saw him giving the girl earlier. Carol looks into the book in her hand. The pages are blank.