Dan Flavin Monument 1 for V. Tatlin, 1964
Dan Flavin is renown for creating sculptural exhibitions out of light. These sculptures, which Flavin himself referred to as “situations”, are composed of fluorescent tube lights in ten colors (blue, green, pink, red, yellow, ultraviolet, and four whites) and five shapes (one circular and four straight fixtures of different lengths) commercially available to all; something that could be considered a translation of the mundane into something much more beautiful. Because of his works’ geometric shapes, simple arrangements and lack of added decoration, Flavin became associated with Minimalism, a 1960s art movement that rejected art tied to narrative or biography and instead focused on simplistic form. Minimalism upended conventional aesthetics with the use of prefabricated often industrial materials, and blurred the lines between painting and sculpture.
Much of Flavin’s work focuses on the relationship between his sculptures and their surroundings. His sculptures often literally adapted the form of the exhibition space provided; he once lit up a staircase in the warehouse of what was once the Dia Art Foundation and created a an installation for several tracks at Grand Central Station. What’s more interesting is his use of light as architecture best exemplified by his monumental barriers that physically block a passageway or segment of a space with light. His work demands both physical and visual responses from its audience.
Dan Flavin Installation in Dia Art Foundation Staircase
Influenced by Minimalism and particularly Dan Flavin’s “monument” for V. Tatlin series, designer Tara Elwin created her "White Light" collection, which was originally designed with hand carved moonstone rods to capture the luminescence of fluorescent rods. Moonstone has been replaced with more durable platinum rods. Each rod is capped with 14k gold, like the end caps you’d find on a fluorescent light tube, and white diamonds on each end that mimic light emission.
Though his work is ephemeral because fluorescent bulbs are perishable, its pioneering legacy lives on in the form of light artists that have risen to prominence since his lifetime. His first sculpture made entirely of fluorescent lights debuted in 1963, and he continued to work on this signature style up until his death in 1996. The New York Times commented: “When Dan Flavin first brought [neon] into art galleries during the 1960’s he was, in effect, doing what Marcel Duchamp had done with his ready-mades nearly 50 years earlier.”
Original Tara4779 White Light collection prototypes made with moonstone rods. To order these limited edition pieces e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Dia Beacon in Beacon, NY and the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, NY to view his surviving works.
Current Exhibitions of Flavin's Work at Dia