> Dan Flavin
Centro Cultural Light, Rio
de Janeiro, 1998
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
"The sublime is to be found in a formless
object, so far as in it or by occasion of it, boundlessness is
represented” Emmanuel Kant. Critique of Judgment.
A self-taught artist, Dan Flavin came early
to light, the theme he would explore throughout his career. By
introducing the use of the fluorescent light in the work of art,
beyond allowing an analogy with Marcel Duchamp's ready-modes,
Dan Flavin became one of the principal representatives of Minimalism.
He was also one of the first artists to reject studio production,
preferring to dedicate himself to proposals for site-specific
The number of works by Dan Flavin currently
on exhibition is quite limited. The curious may seek out the phenomenal
installation in Varese, Italy, commissioned by Count Panza di
Biumo. Although part of that great art lover's collection has
been acquired by the Guggenheim Museum, it is unfortunately not
on display. At the Dia Center, in Bridgehampton, New York, there
is a special space dedicated to Flavin. His final work was the
installation which may be admired at the Chiesa Rossa in Milan.
Small format works are sometimes exhibited in the major contemporary
art museums. This practically sums up all that is publicly available
today to someone who wishes to become acquainted with his work.
Thus, it is with great satisfaction that we have organized this
exhibition to introduce the work of this important artist of the
second half of the twentieth century to the Brazilian public.
The first work in which Dan Flavin made use
of electric light - monochromatic paintings lit by light bulbs
or tubes of fluorescent light - date from 1961. But the matrix
for what would soon come to characterize the artist's work and
method was the diagonal of personal ecstasy, in 1963. In 1964,
in his first individual exhibition, at the Green Gallery in New
York, the pieces were exclusively made up of tubes disposed so
as to compose various figures.
Dan Flavin soon became famous as one of the
principal representatives of the Minimalism - beside Donald Judd
and Carl Andre. As we know, a desire to reduce the means, and
the serial utilization of elements which are always neutral materials,
seeking to dissociate the act of conception from the act of execution
of the work, are among the principles of minimalist art. Minimalism
seeks the degree zero of signification. He was indifferent to
art as it was understood in the classical sense and to its material
characteristics. His fluorescent tubes maintained their own characteristics,
always "anonymous and without glory".
In a radical declaration, Dan Flavin stated
his belief that "art is shedding its vaunted mystery for
a common sense of keenly realized decoration. Symbolizing is dwindling
- becoming slight. We are pressing downward toward no art—
a mutual sense of psychologically indifferent decoration - a neutral
pleasure of seeing known to everyone... Electric light is just
another instrument. I have no desire to contrive fantasies mediumistic
ally or sociologically over it or beyond it. Future art and the
lack of it would surely reduce such squandered speculations to
silly trivia anyhow..." The electric tubes he used nearly
always measured between 60 cm and 2,5m - standard measurements.
If he sometimes used tubes of other sizes, he would arrange them
according to a system of proportion based on mathematical progressions.Tube
colors were restricted to the selections available on the market.
Indirect lighting, ultraviolet and circular tube models constitute
the few additions made by the artist to the arsenal of standard
But if, according to the principles of minimalist
art, Dan Flavin chose to use standard-sized bulbs, the use of
light is not, in itself, an innocent choice. He chose to transform
light from a merely external incidental into a real component
of his work, yet was interested neither in manipulating that medium
of electricity nor in its technological perspectives. The light
of his sculptures models the space that surrounds it, is dissatisfied
with its place on the wall, invading and transforming those spaces,
disintegrating and reconstructing, conditioning passages and perambulations
as well as the spectator's state of being. It is in the atmosphere
created by the work, and not in its various parts or its whole,
that the work establishes its relationship with the viewer.
Despite the formal organization of each work,
their aesthetics are induced by the fluorescent light that emanates
from them. The tubes diffuse the light more than they concentrate
it. The gaze cannot rest upon a sculpture by Dan Flavin. Focusing
is impossible, for the gaze is always drawn beyond the ambiguous
and indeterminate limits of space and of the work itself. From
among the tactile and visual characteristics of fluorescent light,
the artist uses heat and luminosity, therefore rendering the created
sculpture untouchable. And the light may either be directed upon
the spectator or to the opposite side, so as to create effects
of indirection and depth.
As we have said, throughout his career Dan Flavin
came to carry out his work in the exhibition space or to connect
them to in loco projects. In dematerializing the pictorial space
and taking into consideration the dimensions of each room, the
reflexivity of surfaces, and the specific conditions of each place
in which he showed his work, his combinations were unlimited.
To conceive the artistic creation in this manner represented a
decisive step in the concept of creation, and demonstrated that
artists can do without studios. Starting from the proposals created
specifically for the places in which he had been invited to show
his work, Dan Flavin constructed the elements which would make
up the work at the exhibition's site. There are many diagrams
and drawings in which he records specifications and instructions
for projects. Each exhibition was conceived as a whole; spaces
and bulbs as a single entity.
Many of Dan Flavin's works are dedicated to
friends such as Judd and Lichtenstein, and to departed masters
- especially Tallin -, but also to Josef Albers and Barnett Newman.
Dan Flavin's "icons" are the "bare rooms".
In these, his task would be to illuminate without revealing the
passage to those who still ignore the trajectory. This form of
sentimentality, the demand for faith and the exaltation contained
in his work are always present behind a declared “parti
pris” of austerity and rigor. This observation led Kim Levin
to declare: "It is the art of austere hedonism, of a priest
who, having forfeited his habit, claims a Jesuitical austerity
while giving free reign to all sentimental excess."
One of the twentieth century's greatest artists,
Dan Flavin participated in all the important artistic manifestations
of contemporary art, such as the Kassel Documenta and the Whitney
Biennial. His work has been shown in countless museums: the Guggenheim,
the Kunstmuseum in Basel, the Chicago Art Institute, the National
Gallery of Canada, MoCA in Los Angeles, the Ri|ksmuseum and the
Stedelijkmuseum in Amsterdam, Kröller Muller (also in Holland),
the Stadtische Galerie in Frankfurt, and others. Among the prestigious
galleries which represented him are Castelli, Weber, and Pace