Dan Flavin; untitled (for Charlotte and Jim Brooks) 3, 1964; Photograph Billy Jim; © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dan Flavin's Re-Imagining of Architecture with Fabricated Light

Dan Flavin; untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3, 1977; Photograph Billy Jim; © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
3716 Washington Boulevard
St. Louis
Dan Flavin:
Constructed Light

February 1-October 4, 2008

The experience of Dan Flavin’s work — sculptural installations made of mass-produced light fixtures and florescent tubes — in the architecture and shifting natural light of the Pulitzer building is the point of this exhibition, curated by Tiffany Bell, project director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné. Seh currently serves as curator and archivist for Flavin Studio. The installation is realized with the oversight and assistance of Stephen Morse, Exhibition Coordinator and Conservator of Flavin Studio.

Flavin’s work encompasses the space it illuminates — inseparable from its architectural context. From works that cast light into the dark corners of a room, to corridor pieces emphasizing transitional space, to barriers blocking gallery areas, visitors are forced to reconsider how they move through the building.

This relationship between art and architecture is especially powerful within the Pulitzer building. The architecture, designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Tadao Ando, focuses on natural light and how it shifts throughout the building as the day and seasons progress. Visitors are therefore encouraged to return to the galleries at different times to view the ever-changing interaction between the natural light and that of Flavin’s work. In addition, the Pulitzer will be open from 6-9 p.m. the first Thursday of every month to enable the visitor’s experience during dusk and nighttime hours.

Many of Flavin’s works consist of the same configuration of fixtures. By altering only the color of the bulbs, new works with new titles are created. This aspect of Flavin’s work will be highlighted halfway through the Pulitzer exhibition when the lamps on a number of the art works will be switched. At this point, a new iteration of Flavin’s works will be created, thus allowing for an entirely different experience of color throughout the building.

Dan Flavin (April 1, 1933 Jamaica, New York-November 29, 1996 Riverhead, New York) first conceived of using electric light as art in 1961, the same year he married his first wife Sonja Severdija. The first works to incorporate electric light were his "icons" series: eight colored square box-forms, constructed by the artist and his then wife Sonja, with fluorescent lamps and incandescent bulbs attached to their sides and sometimes beveled edges. One of these "icons" was dedicated to Flavin's twin brother David, who died of polio in 1962. The diagonal of personal ecstasy (the diagonal of May 25, 1963) (1963) was his first mature work, marking the beginning of Flavin's exclusive use of fluorescent light. Over the decades that followed, he continued to use fluorescent light to explore color, light and sculptural space in works that filled gallery interiors, taking a variety of forms including "corner pieces", "barriers" and "corridors". Most of Flavin's works were untitled with a dedication in parenthesis to friends, artists, critics and other individuals, the most famous of which include his Monuments to V Tatlin, in homage to Russian constructivist sculptor Vladimir Tatlin, which he continued to produce between 1964 and 1990. Flavin studied art history for a short time at the New School for Social Research, and drawing and painting at Columbia University. Flavin married his second wife, artist Tracy Harris, at the Guggenheim Museum, in 1992.

There is a small museum, the Dan Flavin Art Institute, dedicated to Flavin's work in a converted firehouse in Bridgehampton, New York.

Dan Flavin; untitled (for Charlotte and Jim Brooks) 2, 1964; Photograph Billy Jim; © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dan Flavin, untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection), detail, 1973, Green fluorescent light, Modular units, 122 x 122 cm, length variable, Dia art Foundation, Photograph Florian Holzherr, Courtesy, Dia Art Foundation.

Dan Flavin and the Beginnings of Minimalist Installation

Dan Flavin, untitled (to Henri Matisse), 1964, Pink, yellow, blue, and green fluorescent light, 244cm, Private collection, New York, Photograph Billy Jim, Courtesy Dia Art Foundation.

Dan Flavin, pink out of a corner (to Jasper Johns), 1963, Pink fluorescent light, 244 cm, Collection Stephen Flavin, Photograph Billy Jim, courtesy Dia Art Foundation.

Dan Flavin, icon V (Coran's Broadway Flesh), 1962, oil on cold gesso on Masonite, porcelain receptacles, pull chains, and clear incandescent "candle" bulbs, 41-5/8 x 41-5/8 x 9-7/8", Private collection, New York, Photo: Bill Jacobson, New York, © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles
Modern and Contemporary Art Building
Dan Flavin: A Retrospective
May 13-August 12, 2007

Dan Flavin: A Retrospective, the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to minimalist artist Dan Flavin’s full career. Regarded as one of the most innovative artists of his generation, Flavin is best known for creating art almost entirely of commercially-available fluorescent light tubes. Although he used common materials, Flavin’s art is complex in design and often relates to specific architectural contexts. Co-curated by Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, and Tiffany Bell, Director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné, the exhibition features more than forty of Flavin’s seminal fluorescent light works. Also presented is a special reconstruction of the corridors made for the E.F. Hauserman Co. showroom, formerly located at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

“Perhaps because Flavin is known so well as one of the founders of minimalism, his work has rarely been considered in all of its breadth and innovation before this retrospective,” said Michael Govan, LACMA Director. “Flavin was one of the inventors of what we now know as ‘installation art’ and his groundbreaking use of color and light in architecture has been emulated not only in art, but in design and architecture. I count him among the most important figures in twentieth century art.”

Organized by Dia Art Foundation in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Dan Flavin: A Retrospective showcases the chronological development of Flavin's work over the course of 30 years, demonstrating the various means through which he experimented with light, color, seriality, and the coordinates of interior space. The exhibition includes the full range of his work, many of which are specifically dedicated to modernist predecessors and contemporary artists who inspired him, such as Constantin Brancusi, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, and Henri Matisse. Other dedications reveal Flavin’s commitment to the politics of his time and his attempt to reinvent the genre of the commemorative monument.  

Some of Flavin’s early works, such as his “icons” series made from 1961 to 1963, feature several constructed boxes with attached incandescent or fluorescent lights. Works such as icon I (the heart) (to the light of Sean McGovern which blesses everyone) (1961–62) signifies Flavin’s invention of an object that is neither a painting nor sculpture yet incorporates elements of both. Later, the artist moved into his most recognized style of art composed solely of fluorescent light. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymade, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi) (1963) is the first example of Flavin’s utilization of standardized, unaltered light tubes and comprises a yellow, eight-foot long fluorescent bulb available from hardware stores in prefabricated lengths and colors.

In 1964, Flavin dedicated a series of works to Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin. His well-known “monuments” to V. Tatlin (1964–1981) mimics Tatlin’s ideas of Utopian architecture, and comprises the chief examples of Flavin’s principles of seriality and permutation. The range of Flavin's content is represented by pieces that include political subjects, such as monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P.K. who reminded me about death) (1966), an installation of four red fluorescent lights in the form of a crossbow that exude a powerful, but dim, bloodlike glow to commemorate the Vietnam War. 

At each venue, the exhibition has been reshaped in content and presentation in relation to the architecture and opportunities that the spaces have provided. In Los Angeles, the exhibition will include a major reconstruction of three spectacular corridors Flavin made for the E.F. Hauserman Co. showroom—presented together for the first time since they were dismantled in 1984. Architects and designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli collaborated with Flavin to create a space for the showroom that evoked a dynamic architectural experience. For two of the corridors, Flavin places fluorescent lights at mid-point to bar the viewer from passing through them. One end of the corridor is yellow and pink, while the other end is green and yellow. The central corridor is open from one end to the other, and completely blue with angled light fixtures on the walls and ceiling. The installation opened at the Pacific Design Center in March, 1982, to great acclaim. Upon its dismantling, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles acquired one of the corridors, which will be included in LACMA’s presentation. 

Dan Flavin was born on April 1, 1933, in New York City. In the mid 1950s, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a meteorological technician in Korea. Afterward, he returned to New York to take various art classes at the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. While at Columbia in 1959, he began to make assemblages and collages. This lead to his first solo exhibition in 1961 at the Judson Gallery in New York, and later that same year, he began experimenting with the “icons.” 

Flavin’s use of unadorned fluorescent light placed him at the forefront of a generation of artists, including Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Robert Morris. He became known as the progenitor of minimal art through inclusion in key group exhibitions such as Black, White, and Gray at the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1964 and Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in New York City in 1966. He was featured in the Minimal Art exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague in 1968, and continued to exhibit nationally and internationally until his death in 1996 of complications from diabetes.


Dan Flavin, the nominal of three (to William of Ockham), 1963, Cool white fluorescent light, 244cm, Dia Art Foundation, Photograph Billy Jim, Lannan Foundation.