Dan Flavin

Long-term view, Dia Beacon

Overview

Few artists are more identified with a particular medium than Dan Flavin. After 1963 Flavin’s work was composed almost entirely of light, in the form of commercially available fluorescent tubes in ten colors (blue, green, pink, red, yellow, ultraviolet, and four whites) and five shapes (one circular and four straight fixtures of different lengths). He arranged fixtures in varying autonomous configurations, as in the series of “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1964–90), and then increasingly in color and in relation to architecture, exemplified by his monumental barriers that physically block a passageway or segment of a space with light.

Flavin once summed up his practice as “decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.” His simplified formal vocabulary can be related to the work of contemporaries such as Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, and Donald Judd, in its reduction of formal devices, emphasis on serial and rational rather than gestural forms, and focus on the phenomenological presence of the works rather than their narrative implications.

Few artists are more identified with a particular medium than Dan Flavin. After 1963 Flavin’s work was composed almost entirely of light in the form of commercially available fluorescent tubes in ten colors (blue, green, pink, red, yellow, ultraviolet, and four whites) and five shapes (one circular and four straight fixtures of different lengths). In his earliest fluorescent works he arranged fixtures in varying configurations, as in the series of “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1964–90) and gold, pink and red, red (1964). As he began creating brightly colored and spatial works in the mid-1960s, he described his practice as “decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.”

With his contemporaries such as Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, and Donald Judd, Flavin shared a reductive formal vocabulary, an emphasis on serial rather than gestural forms, and a focus on the phenomenological presence of objects that must be experienced in real time and space. In 1966 Flavin developed his signature “barriers”—a series of freestanding fixtures that physically block a passageway or segment of space with light. These architectural interventions take serial repetition as their point of departure. For example, the artist’s untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) (1973) consists of square, fluorescent-green units placed side by side at two-foot intervals until a space is clearly blocked. The dimensions of this site-responsive installation are variable and aim to disrupt the architecture of the exhibition space. Vertically bisecting one of Dia Beacon’s lower-level galleries, the green barrier draws attention to the complicated relationship between the optical and physical elements of the artist’s practice.

This installation is one of several works that Flavin dedicated to his longtime patron and Dia cofounder Heiner Friedrich. That said, despite the artist’s often personal or sentimental titles and his deep awareness of the historical symbolism of light in art, he always refused to attach symbolic or transcendent significance to his work.

Dan Flavin

 

untitled (to you, Heiner, with
admiration and affection), 1973
Fluorescent light and metal fixtures
Dia Art Foundation; Gift of Louise and Leonard Riggio

Dan Flavin was born in 1933 in New York City. In the mid-1950s he served in the United States Air Force, after which he returned to New York, where he studied art history at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University. In 1961 he had his first solo exhibition at the Judson Gallery, New York. Later that year he began experimenting with electric light in a series of works called “icons,” which led him to his first work made solely of fluorescent light, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi) (1963). Major exhibitions of Flavin’s work include those at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1967); the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1969); and the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, Germany (1989). In 2004 Dia organized a traveling retrospective in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. In 1983 Dia opened the Dan Flavin Art Institute (now Dia Bridgehampton), a permanent exhibition designed by the artist in a former firehouse and Baptist church in Bridgehampton, New York. Flavin died in 1996 in Riverhead, New York

Artist

Dan Flavin

Dan Flavin was born in New York City in 1933. He died in Riverhead, New York, in 1996.

 

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Books

FLA EN_for web

Photo: Ethan Harrison

Dan Flavin: A Retrospective

Tiffany Bell and Michael Govan

This landmark book features the artist’s most significant light works, plus reproductions of Flavin's drawings.

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Dan Flavin: A Retrospective Poster

Full-color offset poster Created for the 2004 exhibition Dan Flavin: A Retrospective, organized by Dia Art Foundation, New York, in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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FLA_for web_Photo Don Stahl

Photo: Don Stahl

Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights, 1961–1996

Tiffany Bell and Michael Govan

A complete study of the stunning light works by Dan Flavin.

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