Steve McQueen, on a Different Wavelength

When the Dia Art Foundation invited Steve McQueen to create a work for its museum in Beacon, N.Y., the curators assumed that he’d propose a film or video project. It made sense: McQueen is the British director of the Oscar-winning best picture “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and other acclaimed movies such as “Hunger” and “Shame.” And long before that, he was already a prominent contemporary artist known for experimental films with wildly varying themes, lengths and display methods, often in museum galleries.

In one notable work, “Western Deep” (2002), he immersed viewers in the experience of workers in a gold mine in South Africa. The installation required a pitch-black screening room and the film began with a six-minute scene of the descent down the shaft.

Awarded the British pavilion exhibition in the Venice Biennale in 2009, he showed “Giardini,” a film on two large screens depicting the gardens that host national pavilions, but shot in the dead of winter, misty and gray, with scavenger dogs roaming and dim church bells in the distance.

The last time that Donna De Salvo, a senior adjunct curator at Dia, worked with McQueen, in 2016, she was chief curator at the Whitney Museum, where they showed “End Credits.” It addressed the federal government’s surveillance and scrutiny of the celebrated African American actor and activist Paul Robeson. Playing on two huge screens that faced each other across the museum’s empty fifth floor, it scrolled through redacted documents from Robeson’s F.B.I. file. It ran nearly 13 hours.

In “Western Deep,” (2002), one of his many experimental films, McQueen immersed viewers in the constricted atmosphere of a gold mine in South Africa — including a six-minute scene of the descent down the mine shaft.Credit…via Steve McQueen, Marian Goodman Gallery and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
“End Credits,” a film installation by McQueen at the Whitney Museum in 2016, was shown on two huge screens facing each other across the gallery. It was based on F.B.I. files on the actor and activist Paul Robeson, and ran 13 hours.Credit…via Steve McQueen, Marian Goodman Gallery and Thomas Dane Gallery, London; Photo by Ron Amstutz
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