American artist Dan Flavin is renowned for his sculptures made from commercially available fluorescent lights, which have formed the basis of his work throughout his career. Flavin extracted these banal, utilitarian materials from their original context to create artworks with a purity and simplicity that typified the minimalist aesthetic in the 1960s. His works were made from all commercially available colours and sizes of tube lamps, in a wide variety of arrangements.
Flavin was a self-taught artist from New York, whose breakthrough came in 1963 when he created the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), a single yellow tube installed on the wall at a diagonal slant. With the exception of this work, for the most part his tubes were arranged on the walls in vertical and horizontal directions. After creating this pioneering artwork Flavin subsequently dedicated all his sculptures to other people, including artists, philosophers, collectors and dealers.
Like many of his contemporaries in the 1960s, Flavin looked to serial principles to determine the composition of his works both in terms of form and colour, rather than composing them intuitively. His three artworks in the ARTIST ROOMS collection all relate to larger series’ of works. Untitled (to Don Judd, colorist), 1-5 1987 is a series of five sculptures by Flavin which were dedicated to his friend, the minimalist artist Donald Judd. These sculptures were part of a larger group of ten, although Flavin exhibited numbers 1 through 5 at the Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt in Paris in 1987. This set of five were subsequently installed together in various places including the Soho branch of the Guggenheim Museum in 1995 and in London at the Serpentine in 2001, as well as at the Judd estate on Spring Street in 1997 after Judd’s death.
Both “monument” for V. Tatlin 1964 and “monument” for V. Tatlin 1969-70 were part of a large series dedicated to the Russian avant-garde artist Vladimir Tatlin, the first of which were made in 1964 and the last in 1990. Each work in this series is composed from cool, white fluorescent tubes of all the commercially available sizes – 2, 4, 6 and 8 feet. In 1965 Flavin wrote that the series, ‘memorialises Vladimir Tatlin, the great revolutionary, who dreamed of art as science’ (quoted in Weiss 2006, p.137). Through the description of these works as ‘monuments’ he made a comparison, albeit ironically, between his own modest work and Tatlin’s ambitious yet unrealised Monument to the Third International 1919-20.
Jeffrey Weiss (ed.), Dan Flavin: New Light, New Haven & London 2006.