Dan Flavin - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York, acquired directly from the above, March, 1989
    Christie's, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening, November 10, 2004, lot 9
    Private Collection, Chicago, acquired directly from the above sale
    Stellan Holm Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Rubin Spangle Gallery, Dan Flavin: Important Historical Works, 1963-1990, May - June, 1992 (another example exhibited)
    New York, PaceWildenstein, White Works, July - September, 1994 (another example exhibited)
    New York, Danese, Dan Flavin: 'monuments' for V. Tatlin, January - February, 1997 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    "Monuments" for V. Tatlin from Dan Flavin, 1964-1982, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1984, no. 3, cover (illustrated)
    Dan Flavin: 'monuments' for V. Tatlin, 1964-182, exh. cat., Danese, New York, 1997, p. 17 (illustrated)
    M. Govan and T. Bell, eds., Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights, 1961-1996, New York: Dia Art Foundation in association with Yale University Press, 2004, no. 61, p. 238 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "One might not think of light as a matter of fact, but I do. And it is, as I said, as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find." Dan Flavin, 1987

    Radiant is perhaps the best word that can define the work of Dan Flavin, one of the first contemporary artists to employ the immaterial to as great an extent as the worldly. For over three decades, Flavin produced his signature work in neon, glass, and light, and, as a consequence, redefined space as we know it. His many works almost always went untitled, save for a parenthetical description of each dedicatee. In one of his earliest and purest experiments in light and wonder, Flavin produced Untitled (“monument” for V. Tatlin), 1964-65. In one of Flavin’s great strokes of artistic generosity, he crafts his piece in honor of a bygone artist, and, in the process, forges a work that “monumental” only begins to describe.

    Flavin absorbed the Abstract Expressionist boom of the 1950s, consolidating his ideas for a new type of intense sculpture. Finally, in 1963, he unveiled to the world Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy (the Diagonal of May 25, 1963). The piece was remarkable not only for its revolutionary use of neon light and its resultant lack of boundaries, but also for Flavin’s dedication, which took sculptor Constantin Brâncuși as its subject.

    A year later, while Flavin’s sculpture was gaining a wider audience, Flavin himself was still immersed in art history as a diligent student. In particular, he forged a spiritual kinship with Vladimir Tatlin, an avant-garde Russian sculptor who passed away ten years earlier. Yet Tatlin’s work was indispensable to Flavin, especially in regard to the work in which he was presently engaged: Tatlin had sought to dismantle the concept of the frame, finding it an impediment to the structural and formative process of sculpting.

    Flavin would begin a long affair with the memory of Tatlin, dedicating many of his works to the sculptor over the next twenty years: “My concern for the thought of Russian artist-designer, Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), was prompted by the man’s frustrated, insistent attitude to attempt to combine artistry and engineering. The pseudo-monuments, structural, designs for clear but temporary cool white fluorescent lights, were to honor the artist ironically.”(“Some artist’s remark…’” in Monuments for V. Tatlin from Dan Flavin, 1964-1982, exh.cat.)

    Flavin’s irony in Untitled (“monument” for V. Tatlin), 1964-65 lies in the fact that he has bridged the exact chasm that Tatlin sought to bridge, for it betrays a perfect marriage of artistry and engineering. A towering structure of luminescence, Flavin’s sculpture is the picture of symmetry, the center points rising eight feet vertically. Constructed of seven tubes of glass set flush against the wall, Flavin in his piece is perhaps the first artist in Western history to employ the elusive fourth state of matter, plasma, as his principal medium. Bound to their stark-white fixtures, the tubes are the very portrait of self-sufficiency, requiring only a power source in order to give off their luminous energy. Yet we would be remiss not to recognize the structural intimations of Flavin’s work: within the glowing shape of his glass fixtures lies the art deco outline of early twentieth century skyscrapers such as the Woolworth and Chrysler building, symbols of American power and capitalism.

    But the concrete nature of Flavin’s sculpture is only one aspect of its being. Casting its radiance upon the walls behind it and the floor below, Untitled breaks free of its material borders with unbounded energy, spilling brightness upon whatever surface happens to fall in its proximity. This fascinating second degree of sculptural expansion paved the way for countless artists to replicate its principles over the next three decades, including Tracey Emin and Bruce Nauman. The true marriage of engineering and form was no pipe dream for Vladimir Tatlin, though he may not have thought to seek it on such a contained yet explosive scale.

    Flavin’s use of light as a medium in Untitled (“monument” for V. Tatlin) is its greatest achievement. Though he frequently worked with colored neon, Flavin here relies on what he refers to as “cool white”—the concept of neutrality in luminescence. This chromatic choice lends Untitled an air of removed greatness, unwilling to cater to the baser pleasures that color may afford in favor of the purity of light itself.

    Flavin was certainly not the first artist to incorporate elements of design or odes to architecture in his work, but he was the first to make the space that his work occupied as crucial a part of his piece as the physical medium itself. Michael Kimmelman comments on Flavin’s contribution to the destruction of artistic barriers: he “consciously blurred the distinction between art and architecture, seizing architecture as part of art's sculptural vocabulary, incorporating corners, walls, doorways and windows, creating a category that was a melting pot of painting, sculpture and design.”(M. Kimmelman, “To Be Enlightened, You Pull the Switch”, The New York Times, October 1, 2004)

    Flavin may have been a sculptor in practice, but he thought of himself as a shaper—of glass, of space, of light itself. The present lot is one of his most gorgeous moldings of reality in existence today.

  • Artist Biography

    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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Ο ◆43

"monument" for V. Tatlin

cool white fluorescent light
96 x 31 1/4 in. (243.8 x 79.4 cm)
This work is number 2 from an edition of 5 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.
Another work from the edition is in the permanent collection of the Dia: Beacon, Beacon, New York.

$1,800,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,165,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm