Dan Flavin: in daylight or cool white is being presented at the David Zwiner’s Gallery on West 20th Street. The exhibition will examine Dan Flavin’s use of different variations of fluorescent white light, focusing on significant works from the 1960s. The title refers to Flavin’s seminal text “‘… in daylight or cool white.’ an autobiographical sketch,” first published in the December 1965 issue of Artforum.
Beginning in 1963, when he conceived the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), a single gold, fluorescent lamp installed diagonally on a wall, until his death in 1996, Flavin produced a singularly consistent and prodigious body of work that utilized fluorescent light to create installations (or “situations,” as he preferred to call them) of light and color.
Throughout his career, Flavin experimented with the subtly chromatic and perceptual possibilities afforded by the commercially available variations of “white” fluorescent light (cool white, daylight, warm white, and soft white). The exhibition will include key works from 1963 to the early 1970s, encompassing a period of radical experimentation for the artist and presenting the range of variation he was able to achieve in his constructions. The works from this pivotal first decade of his exploration of ready-made, commercially produced lamps exemplify and distill—in this restricted palette—his minimal and conceptual approach. Seen together, these works show the varied and nuanced ways in which Flavin’s light constructions establish and redefine the surrounding architecture.
On view will be the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (1963), a soft white iteration of Flavin’s first use of fluorescent light alone; and the nominal three (to William of Ockham) (1963), which consists of an additive system of six fluorescent lamps, installed in intervals of one, two, and three vertical 8-foot lamps. Dedicated to the medieval English theologian and philosopher William of Ockham, this work established the use of elemental systems and progressions that would preoccupy Flavin throughout his career. As the artist noted in 1963, “With the nominal three I will exult primary figures and their dimensions. Here will be the basic counting marks (primitive abstractions) restated long in the daylight glow of common fluorescent tubes.”1
Other works on view combine different variations of white light, such asalternate diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd) (1964), which experiments with the distinct effects of daylight and cool white lamps. Also included in the exhibition will be untitled (1964), a curving arc of seven 2-foot fixtures. The work was first presented in Flavin’s 1966 solo exhibition at Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne, and comprises a rare curved format for the artist, extending from the wall on the floor into the exhibition space.
Significant early examples of Flavin’s “monuments” for V. Tatlin will be included. Dedicated to the Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, this sustained series of work by the artist explored different configurations of cool white fluorescent light. Like other artists in the 1960s, Flavin appreciated the Russian Constructivists for their quest to express revolutionary social and political attitudes in a language of pure abstraction, which, particularly in Tatlin’s case, emphasized the use of real materials (tin, wood, iron, glass, plaster) in three-dimensional space. Flavin’s “monuments” embody what he described as his goal of working on “a sequence of implicit decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.”
Daniel Nicholas Flavin Jr. was in Jamaica, New York and was raised by Catholic parents. Both Dan and his twin brother, David, went to parochial school and attended church services regularly. The artist began drawing at a young age, and the first person to encourage Flavin’s artistic leanings, showing him how to represent movement in water with little “half moons.” After studying for the priesthood for a brief period of time, Dan, along with his brother, enlisted in the US Army – US Air Force more specifically. In 1953, he was posted in Korea, where he served as an air weather meteorological technician. While there, he managed to take art classes offered by the University of Maryland adult extension program. Three years later, being reassigned to Roslyn Air Force Base, he returned to New York. Pursuing his interest in art, he frequently visited New York galleries and took art classes at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, as well as the New School for Social Research. The following year, he matriculated at Columbia University with the intention of becoming an art historian to support his work as an artist. Abandoning this route after three semesters, he took various odd jobs, including working in the mailroom of the Guggenheim and as a guard at The Museum of Modern Art.While he was working at MoMA met his first wife, Sonja Severdija. They got married in 1961 and worked together on the construction of the Icon pieces. In 1962, Dan went through a personal tragedy when his brother died. In 1992, Flavin re-married to the artist Tracy Harris. Four years later, Dan Flavin died of complications from diabetes.