New York

Dan Flavin

Heiner Friedrich

Standing in the midst of Dan Flavin’s new installation is like bathing in a magnificent pastel sun. Pink, yellow, blue and green fluorescent rays suffuse throughout the gallery space, imparting an overall glow to the interior. The fluorescent tubes themselves are hidden behind pillars and tucked in corners so that the light source is not immediately obvious. But they are exposed when exploring the space, and looking for the source of the light leads inevitably to a close involvement with the gallery interior. The main impression is that the colored tubes are intended to be hidden; only their effect is important, unlike previous pieces dealing directly with the structuring of the tubes.

It’s a matter of emphasis, not a change in direction, for Flavin. The effects of his lights have usually worked in conjunction with the placement of the tubes, and variations in his work were sometimes little more than new arrangements of the lights. Changing from his initial use of white fluorescents to colored tubes drew Flavin away from the Minimal for a short while. Subsequently, his rather spare linear setups became more complex arrangements, of grouped tubes. Displayed side by side or in grids, the emphasis shifted from a clean drawing with light to a sense of composition. By arranging and rearranging the tubes Flavin seemed first to be exploring the effect of light itself, then to be stressing their arrangement in units.

Color introduced new shifts in emphasis; last year’s catty-corner constructions placed colored tubes across corners, arranged in mixed grids. The colors were soft, the tubes easy to look at directly. Approached frontally, the grid and its colored reflection on the wall made a soft environment, self-sufficient and neatly contained.

In contrast, Flavin’s new installation makes a distinction between light source and light effect. Clearly separate, the effect of the lights is experienced before their source is known. And the effect is one at once minimal and complex—complex because of the subtle merging of color into color. Placed at wide intervals, each color affects a large area of the gallery, reflecting off the pillars and walls and diffusing into the space. The change from yellow to pink, or blue to green, is discernible from a distance but not from within the space itself. Either from the contrast in light levels or from increased wattage, the tubes themselves are glaringly bright and difficult to look at directly—something not usually encountered in Flavin’s work. The viewer is therefore forced into the experiential aspects of the piece, rather than a detached visual objectivity.

Essentially, Flavin has been manipulating a limited set of elements in all his work, but shifting the emphasis from source to effect to structure and back again. At the moment he’s placed the emphasis on participation in a coolly beautiful light room. To his credit, the experience is fresh and new, though the concerns are familiar.

Deborah Perlberg