New York

Dan Flavin

Leo Castelli Gallery

Reviewing work by Dan Flavin has always been difficult, for the work is deliberately unyielding to the language of interpretation. It can be described in one of two ways; factually, as a list of lighting fixtures and an indication of their placement, or more poetically, as an evocation of the effect of a particular installation. Either description soon gets boring. Which is the point, for Flavin is interested in challenging traditional notions of art and its appreciation. His colored lights produce an exaggerated sense of wonder, a literalization of the aura of art that borders on the comic. And yet this magical effect is evidently produced with ordinary hardware, put together with unexceptional skill according to easily understood and copied diagrams.

Difficult as this work is to write about, one can always discuss the Duchampian conceit behind it, the strategy of emptying the work of the elements that are commonly expected to identify something as an art object. But this installation defies even that possibility, for in large part it seems to deny the premises of the earlier work. The problem is that there is here far too much art in evidence. Too many purely esthetic decisions have been made, from the carefully chosen, new-wave colors, to the specially built rooms and vistas that transform the gallery. As a result the work now seems mannered, a representation of a style of art making rather than the practice itself. The center of the work has shifted; it is no longer a parody of artistic aura, but a parody of itself.

Thomas Lawson