During the early years of Dan Flavin’s career, the artist was known to experiment in particular with fluorescent lights as much for aesthetic potential as for the economics of their procurement. Easy to access in any hardware store (and often just as easy to return after a show), Flavin embraced the cheap materials of home improvement projects and industrial construction as an essential part of his practice. Yet what Flavin achieved with his pieces is equally significant, creating stately, somber interrogations of space and perception with these simple materials, often using simple patterns and accumulations of material that tied him to other masters of the burgeoning school of minimalist practice developing around him in New York.
This month, David Zwirner reviews Flavin’s practice in this format, beginning with his earliest work in the format, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), a single gold, fluorescent lamp installed diagonally on a wall, and moving through the artist’s career all the way up until his death in 1996. Throughout, the show traces the signature aspects of Flavin’s practice in macro, exploring and interrogating his use of the fluorescent light in any number of variations in placement and presentation.
Flavin’s minor alterations and manipulations of each lighting structure subtly changes their effects. From his first work, hung diagonally across the wall to his later works, snaking along the floor or clustering in the corners of the room, his pieces take space itself as both canvas and compositional element, occasionally drawing on architectural elements to inform the work’s final form, or to serve as a marking agent for those same elements. Flavin creates objects that function both as markers and construction elements simultaneously, with the gentle glow each fixture gives off serving as an equally resonant marker of the artist’s effects. Throughout, Flavin’s hand seems to fade in and out with that of the space itself, a disappearing act bathed in soft light and shadow.
Similarly, it’s worth noting how his use of such modular instruments equally realizes a body of work that can shift quickly into a sense of mutual reinforcement. For as much as Flavin’s work embraces an engagement with room space and the presence of the viewer in a specific environment, his pieces are equally about the act of building space in its own right. These are pieces moving into exchange with the viewer and the room, occasionalyl locking into a broader system of relationships as the viewer begins to appreciate not only each work’s singular aspects, but equally their combined effects.
This discourse of space and relation sits at the core of Flavin’s practice, and here at Zwirner, stripped of almost all accent and embellishment, drives home the most essential aspects of his practice; a language of collaboration and spatial interaction built from the most quotidian materials of everyday construction.
in daylight or cool white closes April 14th.
— D. Creahan
Dan Flavin: in daylight or cool white [David Zwirner]