Dan Flavin

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago)

The second major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art was Dan Flavin’s Pink and “Gold.” The reception which it received in this city was a mixed one and in this respect it paralleled the varied and mixed attitudes which have greeted the new museum and its program.

Flavin’s show epitomized the paradoxical—a quality which has not always found favor in art. The placing of the fluorescent tubes in an arithmetical progression (one which contradicted the illusion of visual perspective) was impersonal, cool (as “cool” as the light which they radiated) and yet it became a uniquely personal idea. Although completely matter-of-fact in the use of commercially available light tubes and the hardware which held them, the arrangement created—or more correctly allowed—an evanescent, almost mystical event to occur. The impersonal mode including the selection and use of readymade materials is of course reminiscent of Duchamp and because of this, one speculates about the importance of Flavin’s idea itself for the future.

Finally, the catalog described the exhibition as a “broad, bright, gaudy, vulgar system” which it admittedly was; but the paradox or at least the contradiction was that it was hardly a “system” and it was “vulgar” only by the associations which the viewer brought to it. True, it seemed to conform to the expectations we might have regarding one of those large movie theater foyers (the Balaban and Katz “palaces” out of the 1930s) and it might be what we would see if the wall panels were to be removed, thus showing lights and their fixtures. Whereas the vulgar, gross, gaudy movie house is historically matrixed by a host of sentimental associations—making it in the ’60s a superb example of camp—Flavin’s proposition strips this away and in doing so achieved its greatest value. This was particularly apt for Chicago and it may help to explain some of the reservations that greeted the show.

Whitney Halstead