Dan Flavin


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Sculptor and installation artist. A leading artist associated with minimalism, he specialized in spare arrangements of colored fluorescent lights, achieving subtle yet magisterial meditations on visual experience. Because his works illuminate surrounding space and often require specific conditions of display, his example fostered development of installation art and other site-specific forms. Born in New York, Daniel Nicholas Flavin Jr. studied for the priesthood for several years before entering military service in 1954. After returning to New York, in 1956 he embarked on studies in art history at the New School for Social Research (now New School) and, the following year, at Columbia University. He remained mostly self-taught as an artist, for several years experimenting with variants of prevailing abstract expressionism until an encounter with Russian constructivism clarified his thinking. Undertaken in late 1961, the breakthrough icon I (estate of the artist), a square, painted wood relief surmounted with a fluorescent light along the top edge, prefigured his mature approach. In 1963 he began to explore the use of colored tubes on their own. Most of his works activate a spatial envelope through reflections on adjacent surfaces, often the corner of a room. He generally chose mellow hues of yellow, pink, blue, and green, along with white, rather than the brighter, more strident colors associated with advertising and other utilitarian uses. However, by employing only commercially available fixtures, he cast his lot with those twentieth-century artists interested in the aesthetic potential of non-art materials. In arrangements of only a few steadily glowing “lines,” Flavin achieved a wholly original form of expression combining the three-dimensionality of sculpture, the color sensations of painting, and the volumetric discriminations of architecture. His transcendent effects belie their clear and logically ordered structural arrangements. However, despite his Catholic youth and the inherently ecstatic appeal of his luminous effects, he spurned overtly spiritual interpretations of his art. At the time of his death in a Riverhead hospital, he resided in nearby Wainscott, on eastern Long Island, and in Garrison, on the Hudson River north of New York.

Subjects: Art.

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