New York

Dan Flavin

Light as information has been the subject of Dan Flavin’s work over the last decade. Within his luminous spaces, light is dissociated from metaphors implicit in sources of natural light, while avoiding the commercial and Pop art aspects of other neon activity. Flavin’s work is moving toward purity of format and illumination. It is almost necessary to approach his art through negative description. Since his pieces use material as the vehicle for incandescence, it seems mistaken to view his work as sculptural. Because the luminescent areas are not illusory, the work is neither painterly nor pictorial. While the viewer is able to physically enter these areas of light, the work is not environmental, for the environment demands more complete sensual involvement. Flavin’s pieces maintain a distance through the harshness and vibration of the light and the rigor of design.

The disengagement of Flavin’s work is intensified in two pieces in the show, To a Man, George McGovern, #1 and #2. Perpendicular to each other at opposite ends of the room, these pieces introduce a new design element into Flavin’s work—neon circles placed in triangular configurations increasing arithmetically from one to ten. The grid system is a formal and frontal situation in which the bas-relief tubing creates a series of self-contained elements relating to each other within each triangle and between triangles. These formats intensify the movement toward the acute points of the bases, causing a peculiar perspective almost like quantified foreshortening. The contraction of the cool white neon and the expansion of the yellow fluorescence distorts the room, altering the position of the wall, and the height and angle of the ground plane.

The third piece in the show, 8' high, in daylight fluorescent light, is closer to Flavin’s earlier work. Almost hidden in the corner of the gallery, the work announces its presence as a glow before its structure can be discerned. The light in the piece is both direct and reflected from the wall—two small horizontal tubes of neon face outward while a long vertical tube points in toward the wall. The work has a modest, retiring character, more human in feeling than the other two pieces in the show because its space is more literal. In this piece also, the simplified structure is counterpointed by the radiance. Light is the medium through which structure reveals itself, existing in itself only as a diagram for potential information, color, and light without reference to other realities.

––Lizzie Borden