Dan Flavin was born in 1933 in Jamaica, New York and died in New York in 1996. Since childhood, Flavin had an affinity for drawing. In 1956, he enrolled at the New School for Social Research where he studied Art History. He also enrolled in survey courses at Columbia University. By 1957, be began to paint and draw and managed to show his work at a group art exhibit in Roslyn, New York.
By 1959, Flavin decided to pursue an art career full time and acquired his own studio in 1960. The following year, Flavin held his first solo show, which consisted mainly of watercolors and constructions. At this point, Dan Flavin began to experiment with artificial light within painted boxes and called these pieces "icons" after people he admired.
Despite his early accomplishments, Dan Flavin's true breakthrough came about in 1963, when he began to use fluorescent light as his medium for art. He was particularly interested in how the fluorescent light could alter the physical dimensions of a room and tricked the viewer's eyes.
The first of these fluorescent works, "The Diagonal of May 25," from 1963, was a standard, eight foot, long, white fluorescent tube attached diagonally to a wall, that cast light and shadow around its space. His use of conventional light fixtures, which were all ready made objects, allowed Flavin to step away from the actual art building process itself and to focus on the conceptual final form.
This idea was common among the Minimal artists. Dan Flavin's use of a readymade object instantly won the favor of Marcel Duchamp, the inventor of the readymade. It was on Duchamp's recommendation that he won the 1964 William and Noma Copley Foundation award in Chicago. Flavin continued to exhibit both nationally and internationally winning numerous awards for his work, including the National Foundation of Arts and Humanities award.
As Dan Flavin began to mature as an artist, he introduced color fluorescence to his work. He placed color light in strategically planned spaces to create his illusions. The interplay of the colors and their varying intensities produced an effect across the confines of the gallery space, which in effect created a painting of color. His piece "Untitled (to the Innovator Wheeling Beachblow)," made in 1968, serves as an example of this concept. This piece consists of a framework of fluorescent tubes; pink, gold, and daylight set in a corner of a gallery space. The reflections created an illusion of color that played with the viewer's eyes of the actual dimensions of the space. He was interested in the field of light rather than the fluorescent tubes themselves.
Like many minimalist artists, Dan Flavin left his pieces untitled. However unlike the other minimalists, he dedicated his pieces to people that he admired or to causes that he cared about. This practice began early in his career as evident in his piece, "The Nominal Three" consisting of three fluorescent units made in 1963. "The Nominal Three" was dedicated to William of Ockham who's philosophy that "reality exists only in individual things and that universals are merely abstract signs" he truly believed.
In 1977, Dan Flavin began to extend his work outside the confines of the gallery space and placed them in an environmental setting. He placed fluorescent tubes on railroad tracks in Grand Central Station and built a site-specific work in the staircase of the Dia Foundation exhibition building in New York. In 1983, the Dia Center for the arts opened the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, N.Y. where a permanent collection of Dan Flavin's work can be viewed during the summer. Four years prior to Flavin's death in 1996, he produced a massive installation for the reopening of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Page author: L.C.