US artist Dan Flavin (19331996) is considered to be one of the most important representatives of minimalist art in the world, and a pioneer of light art. He started working with commercially available fluorescent tubes in standardised dimensions and colours in the early 1960s, creating a distinctive oeuvre, altering spaces and perception in equal measure, and generating striking light and colour spaces.
The Dan Flavin Lights exhibition at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
museum of art provides a representative overview of Flavin's light works for the first time in Switzerland. Containing around thirty works, the exhibition explains the artist's development from painting to creating light works based on selected situations (19611964). It spans the range from his key individual works created with fluorescent tubes up to the more recent large-scale works.
As a result of his radical decision to use an everyday industrial product, Flavin's art combines the precisely calculated use of the medium with the daring, sensuous emission of light. With his choice of light tubes as both motif and material for his work, Flavin on one hand indicates the convergence of art with the everyday consumer world. On the other hand, his presentation follows the principles of minimalist austerity, but manages at the same time to outshine these using colours, and to create light spaces of an incomparable sensuous quality.
Flavin's light works avoid the precise contours and proportions of the spaces, seeming to dissolve the borders between the work, the space, and the observer. In his work, Flavin himself brought the concurrence of image and object to the point of thinking in terms of an image object.
Flavin's stance against the pictorial, narrative, and symbolic is highly pronounced; indeed, his relationship with art history identifies him as an artist who crosses borders to venture beyond systematic relationships. With monuments for V. Tatlin, 1964, he not only devoted one of his own series of work to the Russian Constructivist artist-engineer, Vladimir Tatlin, but also shared the Russian avant-garde worship of icons.
From the first golden tube set diagonally to the wall (diagonal of May 25, 1963), to series of his work such as monuments for V. Tatlin, through to large-scale works such as untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg), 1972-1973, the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen demonstrates the scope of an artistic concept that has been developed with impressive consistency as well as great candour. In this exhibition, a selection of Flavin's classical works with fluorescent tubes is complemented with the earlier main series of icons (1961-1964), and also with drawings that relate to individual exhibited light works.