Works from the 1960's Press Release
September 14—November 4, 2000
Zwirner & Wirth will open the fall season with an exhibition comprised of six Dan Flavin fluorescent light sculptures from the 1960s from a private European collection.
It was in 1961 that Flavin began working with electric light and over the next three years he created a series of electrical works he termed "icons". The "icons" were, simply, flat painted pieces of masonite with electrical features mounted on the edges, however it was here that Flavin began to explore the possibilities of colored light and its relationship to the architectural surroundings.
In the spring of 1963, Flavin freed the electric fixtures from their sculptural support for the first time, mounting a single, gold fluorescent tube at a 45-degree angle directly onto the wall. With this radical gesture, Flavin glimpsed for the first time a "buoyant and insistent gaseous image which, through brilliance, somewhat betrayed it physical presence into approximate invisibility". Flavin rejected the term sculpture, referring to his works as image-objects instead. These image-objects were inextricable from and interactive with their architectural "situation", both physically and phenomenologically. In keeping with the salient attitudes and practices of his Minimalist contemporaries, Flavin sought to reduce the means of production in the serial utilization of elements, here the neutral and standardized unit of the mass-produced fluorescent light tube, seeking the zero degree of signification. Alternate Diagonals of March 2 (to Don Judd) of 1964, exemplifies Flavin's new approach and is a rare dedication to the artist Donald Judd.
Three Fluorescent Tubes of 1963 was one of the earliest examples of a new art form where "the actual space of a room could be disrupted and played with by careful and thorough composition of the illuminating equipment". His focus on how the space of a room could "enfold" the light of the tubes made design paramount. In his efforts to de-mystify the aura of an original artwork, Flavin rejected studio production, emphasizing the site-specificity of his "proposals", making most of his work on site, wherever he had been invited to exhibit, using the materials he could find in the local stores. He felt that the fluorescent tubes maintained their own non-hierarchical characteristics remaining always "anonymous and without glory". Now, in this new co-extensive space, meaning was located within the viewer rather than the object. Works such Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake) of 1965 or Untitled (red and blue for Mrs. Sonnabend) demonstrate Flavin's own words: "art is shedding its vaunted mystery for a common sense of keenly realized decoration".
In spite of the artist's written intentions to free his works from the metaphysical trappings of art created by Flavin's abstract expressionist colleagues, Flavin did purposefully attach meaning to many of his works. Masking reverence with irony, The Monument for V. Tatlin series (a 1966 work included in this exhibition) stemmed from the artist's deep appreciation for the projects of the Russian constructivist Vladimir Tatlin. Flavin wrote that his monuments "memorialize Vladimir Tatlin, the great revolutionary, who dreamed of art as science…" The corner piece Untitled (to Frank Stella), 1966, also hints at the Russian fascination with corner relief constructions as seen in both the work of Malevich and Tatlin circa 1915. Flavin’s belief in the constructivist motto "real materials in real space" is demonstrated throughout his career.
Beyond the obvious references made in the Tatlin series, Flavin also dedicated works to friends, family member, colleagues and historical artists throughout his career. In contradiction to the rhetoric of minimalism, the commemorative intonation of these dedications belies the generic quality of the fixtures.
All six of the early sculptures presented in Dan Flavin: Works from the 1960s reveal the fundamental and multi-layered concerns, both conceptual and formal, of the artist which he would continue to develop throughout his lifetime.