untitled (to Philip Johnson)

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Dan Flavin: Lights, December 16, 2012 - March 3, 2013 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    Michael Govan and Tiffany Bell, Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights 1961-1996, New York, 2004, no. 46, p. 231 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Few artists have defined a particular medium as Dan Flavin, whose pioneering work from the early 1960s to his death in 1996 almost entirely consisted of light in the form of commercially available fluorescent tubes. Executed in 1964 in an edition of three, untitled (to Philip Johnson) was created only one year after Flavin achieved his artistic breakthrough of employing this industrial readymade to create installations of light and color, or “situations,” as he preferred to call them. Composed of a single vertical fixture with four fluorescent lamps each in pink, green, blue and red, it is among the first handful of multi-colored works Flavin ever created. Dedicated to the architect Philip Johnson, an early collector of Flavin’s work, this composition held such significance to Flavin that he would create another smaller version of it six years later, untitled (to Jean-Christophe), 1972, an example of which is held in the Museum Folkwang, Essen. Drawing the viewer in with its suffused fluorescent glow that shimmers in a spectrum of luminous pastels until it reaches its crescendo in elegiac red, the present work beautifully epitomizes Flavin’s pioneering phenomenological investigation of color and light that would forever alter the course of art-making in the 1960s.

    Striving to strip art from its reliance on illusionism, allegory, and narrative, and reduce it to its most essential form, Flavin in 1960 conceived of the groundbreaking idea to make sculptures incorporating electric light. Within the course of just three years, he gave form to this idea by initially juxtaposing light onto monochromatic canvas and then radically removing the canvas altogether with his seminal May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), an homage to the formal simplicity and potential endlessness he admired in Brancusi’s work. With this single diagonal, fluorescent lamp, Flavin had found the formal and conceptual touchstone that would inform the next 30 years of his artistic practice. Despite Flavin's deep awareness of the historical and religious symbolism of light in art and his often personal dedication of his untitled works, he resolutely refused to attach any symbolic or narrative significance to his work. In this he was importantly joined by his close friend Donald Judd, together with whom Flavin became known as one of the progenitors of “Minimal Art”, the term coined by Richard Wollheim in 1965 to describe this new tendency, though Flavin and his colleagues opposed this label.

    Following shortly after Flavin’s discovery of the medium of light, untitled (to Philip Johnson) was created in a period of radical research and experimentation. As Michael Govan observed of the works Flavin created in 1964, “Many particular aspects of color in light, and of commercial fluorescent light in particular, were incorporated in Flavin’s work as he gained confidence and experience with his medium” (Michael Govan, Dan Flavin: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Dia Beacon, Beacon, 2004, p. 59). In that year Flavin began to explore the effects of placing multiple, vertical fluorescent tubes next to each other, resulting in a discrete group of eight multi-colored works comprised of four tubes each measuring eight feet tall. While the majority of these are characterized by the use of his "primary” colors of green, blue, pink and yellow, as evidenced most famously in untitled (to Henri Matisse), 1964, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the present work is unique for its inclusion of the color red.

    untitled (to Philip Johnson) takes a significant position in Flavin’s investigation into the subtle chromatic and perceptual possibilities afforded by commercially available utilitarian fluorescent light. Abutted against one another, each 8-foot tube asserts its own vibrant chromatic quality while simultaneously fusing together to produce an entirely new color on the spectrum. In works such as untitled (to Henri Matisse) Flavin had discovered how the addition of green produces an overall white glow, a surprising effect given that in painting this would result in black. A similar white glow emanates from the present work, yet the addition of red introduces a distinct variation of luminescence. Unable to fluoresce, the color red is produced by coating the inside of the glass tube with pigment — reducing the overall amount of light emitted and giving the elegiac appearance of a subdued, almost solid light source. Adding a forceful, material presence to the work, the red light both divides and unites the composition in a way that recalls Barnett Newman’s “zips”. Like Newman or Mark Rothko, Flavin thereby creates a new pictorial space that is meant not merely to be looked at, but is to experience.

    Flavin, who described practice “as a sequence of implicit decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space”, considered himself within a lineage of historical precursors. Despite his drastic break with conventions of art making, he essentially took the central tenets of his predecessors one significant step further by activating space through color and light. As light bleeds into the surrounding ambient space, the work of art comes to encompass both the fluorescent tubes and the space they illuminate. As such, the present work is situated at a crucial inflection point in this artistic pursuit, anticipating how Flavin’s interest in the interaction of colored light in architectural space would manifest itself in his seminal room-filling “barrier" installations just two years later. This is particularly underscored in the present work’s title dedication to Philip Johnson. A true paragon of Flavin’s oeuvre, untitled (to Philip Johnson) invites us to revel in the conceptual depth and beauty the artist found in what others overlooked — offering us an experience that is as all-encompassing as it is transformative.

  • Artist Bio

    Dan Flavin

    American • 1933 - 1996

    Dan Flavin employed commercially-sold fluorescent light tubes in order to produce what he liked to call "situations" or installations. His minimalist approach transcended simplicity through his use of neon colors and thoughtful compositions. With straight-edged light beams, Flavin would often create dynamic arrangements reminiscent of Fred Sandback's work with yarn.

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untitled (to Philip Johnson)

pink, green, blue and red fluorescent light
96 x 8 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (243.8 x 22.2 x 11.4 cm.)
Executed in 1964, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Estimate
$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018