Dan Flavin

Dan Flavin Overview:

April 1, 1933 – November 29, 1996
Born in Jamaica, New York
Irish Catholic descent
Enlisted in the air force 1954-55
Studied art though extension program in Korea
Briefly attended Hans Hofmann school of fine art
Became a mail clerk ad the Guggenheim Museum
Later became an elevator Operator at the MoMA
Died in River-head, New York, of diabetes Complications

Early Work:

Drawings and paintings influenced by Abstract expressionism
1959, started mixed media assemblages, and collages
First work’s that incorporated light were his Icons series dedicated to his brother who died of polio in 1962

“Juan Gris in Paris (adieu Picabia),” by Dan Flavin, crushed can, acrylic collage, 1960

From Flavin’s “Icons” series, 1961 – 1963


Mature Work:

The “Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy (the Diagonal of May 25, 1963),” a yellow fluorescent placed on a wall at a 45-degree angle from the floor and completed in 1963, was Flavin’s first mature work; it is dedicated to Constantin Brâncuși and marks the beginning of Flavin’s exclusive use of commercially available fluorescent light as a medium.

Most of Flavin’s works were untitled, followed by a dedication in parenthesis to friends, artists, critics and others: the most famous of these include his “Monuments to V. Tatlin,” an homage to the Russian constructivist sculptor Vladimir Tatlin, a series of a total of fifty pyramidal wall pieces which he continued to work on between 1964 and 1990.

In the decades that followed, he continued to use fluorescent structures to explore color, light and sculptural space, in works that filled gallery interiors. He started to reject studio production in favor of site-specific “situations” or “proposals” (as the artist preferred to classify his work).

He confined himself to a limited palette (red, blue, green, pink, yellow, ultraviolet, and four different whites) and form (straight two-, four-, six-, and eight-foot tubes, and, beginning in 1972, circles)

In 1992, Flavin’s original conception for a 1971 piece was fully realized in a site-specific installation that filled the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s entire rotunda on the occasion of the museum’s reopening.

One of Flavin’s last works was the lighting for a glass-enclosed arcade (1996) at the Wissenschaftspark Rheinelbe (Rhine-Elbe Science Park) in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The arcade was designed by Uwe Kiessler; it stretches 300 metres (980 ft), and connects nine buildings.

Flavin generally conceived his sculptures in editions of three or five, but would wait to create individual works until they had been sold to avoid unnecessary production and storage costs. Until the point of sale, his sculptures existed as drawings or exhibition copies. As a result, the artist left behind more than 1,000 unrealized sculptures when he died in 1996.


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