the whirling dervish of Dia


Launched under several aliases and in near-secrecy in 1974, Dia was the well-funded lovechild of a German art visionary named Heiner Friedrich and Philippa de Menil, a strikingly beautiful spiritual seeker and youngest scion of the Schlumberger oil fortune. De Menil’s largesse had created a kind of refuge from the speculative market in art then taking shape in New York, and a new canon of monumental, spiritually charged epics: a SoHo gallery floor buried, permanently, with black earth; a hollowed-out volcano, transformed into a science-fictional archaeo-astronomical laboratory for perceptual flight; a Promethean bed of nails poking dangerously into the desert sky, awaiting some gargantuan penitent. … But it took even less time to come apart. Amid falling share prices and rumors of an investigation of financial improprieties by New York’s attorney general, a group of concerned de Menils had launched a coup in 1984, replacing the original board with a respectable firewall of uptown lawyers and suits, putting much of Dia’s real estate and art holdings on the auction block and sequestering Philippa’s money in a trust. The stage was set for an epic confrontation between the suits and the dreamers… that never quite came to pass. The enigmatic Friedrich quit New York, disappeared into a wandering, art-mad exile; Philippa de Menil, the embattled heiress, had long since ceased to exist. In 1980, the woman she was had become a Sufi dervish named Fariha al-Jerrahi, and when the house of Dia fell, she moved on.

more from Alexander Keefe at Bidoun here.