REVIEW ARTICLE: DAN FLAVIN (1933-1996) IT IS WHAT IT IS AND IT AIN’T NOTHING ELSE. EXHIBITION AT THE IKON GALLERY OOZELS SQUARE BRINDLEY PLACE BIRMINGHAM: www.ikon-gallery.org. 13TH APRIL -26TH JUNE 2016: FIRST AND SECOND FLOOR GALLERIES AND TOWER ROOM: REVIEWER LAURENCE HUMPHRIES.

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This Exhibition presents one of the foremost American Minimalists of his generation Dan Flavin. Flavin  together with Donald Judd , Robert Morris and Carl Andre revolutionised art in  the late 1950’s and 1960’s. When I heard about this Exhibition I made special arrangements to visit the IKON  , review the Exhibition and at the same time meet my brother Stephen and his wife Ali who are like me great Art Lovers.

The statement of Flavin fits in perfectly with the IKON with its pure white walls and industrial background .It is ideal to display Flavin’s work in this environment . As the programme notes explain.

” Taking his statement It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else as a departure point IKON’s exhibition exemplifies Flavin’s emphasis on the importance of the context of artistic expression capitalising on the variety of interiors that IKON GALLERY has to offer”. [1].

Above all Minimalism represented a big departure from Abstract Expressionism as represented by Barnett Newmann, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. This high modernist illusionist ideal was to be replaced by art that showed objects spatially displayed. Flavin’s work was  composed of a series of fluorescent tubes .

” Flavin centred his entire artistic practice on the use of Fluorescent Light”. [2]. Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried never liked Minimalism which they referred to as theatrical. Flavin, Judd, Morris and Andre  believed that artistic forms should  be displayed differently as material objects within a spatial dimension. Flavin used fluorescent light. Judd used rectangular boxes and Morris made use of textile materials.

One of the most famous of Flavin’s works  is his reproduction of Vladimir Tatlin’s monument the Fourth International  which is Flavin’s homage to the great Russian constructivist and materialist.

” Flavin was very interested in Russian Constructivism and more than Malevitch it was Vladimir Tatlin- with his insistence on real materials in real space-who made a lasting impression. Flavin’s monuments for Tatlin are remarkable”.[3].

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I also wanted to give some background notes for the emergence of what was referred to disparagingly by art critics as  A,B,C art. Gregory Battock in Minimal art a critical Anthology explains the reason for Minimal art .

” Minimal style is extremely complex. The artist has to create new notions of scale, space , containment shape and object. He must reconstruct the relationship between art object and between object and man”.[4].

Robert Morris in his notes on sculpture gives an explanation of how Tatlin constructed his works in the way that he did. Russian Constructivism  emerged during the 1920’s. ” Tatlin was perhaps the first to free sculpture from representation and establish it as an autonomous form both by kind of image or rather non-image he employed and by his literal use of materials”. [5].

As you walk around Galleries 1 and 2 and in the Tower room you will be struck by the separateness of the objects alone in space so to speak.

Other commentators have suggested the importance of Flavin’s work.

” of all the Work done with light Dan Flavin’s is the most direct. he uses factory made fluorescent lights in regulation lengths and colours. He takes light as it is given as a found object”. [6].

This really comes to the heart of Flavin’s work using colour and a factory made devices fluorescent tubes. He transforms his art into a multi layered colourful display which hold the attention of the viewer and unlike looking at a painting the viewer  can then reflect on its actual reality.

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 To conclude my Review I would just like to quote Dan Flavin in part of his writings.

” For a few years I have deployed  a system of diagramming designs for Fluorescent light in situations of course I was not immediately aware of. That convenience and its inherently fascinating changes”.[7].

I would strongly recommend any one who has not yet seen the exhibition to visit the IKON to view this excellently displayed   and well curated Exhibition. You still have time to visit the Exhibition as it doesn’t finish until the 26th June.

” Dan Flavin’s exhibition It is what is and it ain’t nothing else is supported by Crown Fine Art , Glen Howell’s Architects , The Henry Moore Foundation and David Zwirner/ The estate of Dan Flavin.”.

FOOTNOTES

  1. IKON EXHIBITION NOTES PG I
  2. DITTO
  3. DITTO
  4. MINIMAL ART A CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY EDITED BY GREGORY BATTOCK PG 26
  5. MINIMAL ART A CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY NOTES ON SCULPTURE ROBERT MORRIS PG.224
  6. MINIMAL ART AN CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY WILLOUGHBY SHARP LUMINIUSM AND KINETICISM PG.330
  7. MINIMAL ART A CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY WRITINGS DAN FLAVIN PG.401.

 

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