Dan Flavin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1970)
    Sotheby's, New York, November 12, 2003, lot 50
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Cologne, Galerie Heiner Friedrich, three near square cornered installations from Dan Flavin, November 3 - 21, 1970
    Munich, Galerie Tanit, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, March 8 - May 15, 1985

  • Literature

    Laszlo Glozer, "Quadrat im Lichthof", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1970, p. 9
    Michael Govan and Tiffany Bell, Dan Flavin, The Complete Lights 1961-1996, New York, 2004, no. 259, p. 294 (another example 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

    Beginning in 1963, Dan Flavin embarked on what would become a career-long investigation into light as his signature artistic medium, radically laying the groundwork for installation and environmental art in the second half of the twentieth century. A pioneer of Minimalism, Flavin rejected the gestural, emotional abstraction championed in the immediate aftermath of the War in favor of clean lines, austerity, and purity of form. Working with mass-produced, fluorescent light bulbs, he explored the potential of infinite variation through a fixed system of color, line, and of course, luminosity. Remarkably, Flavin worked with just ten hues – blue, green, pink, yellow, red, ultraviolet, and four shades of white – and a few commercially available tube lengths throughout his prolific career, producing a body of work that is at once both extraordinarily diverse and distinctly his own.

    As demonstrated in untitled, 1970 and untitled, 1984, Flavin’s light works are architectural masterpieces, designed specifically for the environments they transform. In both of these works, which are installed in the corner of a room, Flavin integrates the surrounding architecture, explaining, “I knew that the actual space of a room could be broken down and played with by planting illusions of real light (electric light) at crucial junctures in the room’s composition.” (Dan Flavin, quoted in Jeffrey Weiss, ed., Dan Flavin: New Light, New Haven, 2006, p. 126) Flavin designed works for walls, floors, ceilings, hallways, and entire rooms, sometimes taking over full museums or galleries – but the corner remained his most revered space. He was unequivocally inspired by Russian avant-garde artists Vladmir Tatlin and Kazemir Malevich, who, in the early 1900s, daringly installed their works in corners as a means of eschewing the traditional frame and instead projecting art into “real space”. In designing works specifically for the corner, Flavin too challenged conventional notions of painting and sculpture, pushing this concept one step further by utilizing an industrially produced material as the foundation of his practice.

    untitled from 1970 is an elegant exploration of atmospheric rigor in the purest of colors. Flavin experimented with four variations of white throughout his career: cool white, daylight, warm white, and soft white. In untitled, a mixture of daylight and cool white saturates the environment with an intense luminosity. Bathed in a reverberating diffuse of atmospheric light, the viewer is transported into an alternate world of meditative calm. Like Robert Ryman, whose monochromatic paintings expertly explore the boundless subtleties of the color white, Flavin similarly experiments with delicate tonal variation in untitled. The similarities between the two minimalist masters can also be seen in the importance they placed on their respective art objects’ effect on and relationship with the environments they inhabit, both establishing the tenets of installation art before it became a formal movement. As such, untitled exists as a unique bridging of art historical precedents – both a reference to the tradition of painting vis-à-vis Ryman, and also a bold, novel art form in his radical choice of medium and formal concerns.

    Executed fourteen years later, untitled, 1984 is a stunning example of Flavin’s experimentation with color, and demonstrates the artist’s continued preoccupation with the corner as a sacred space. Flavin was acutely aware of the implications of his color choices and understood that certain pairings conjure memories and preconceptions within the viewer’s psyche. In the present lot, Flavin juxtaposes a horizontal 4-foot band of blue against a 2-foot band of red. When illuminated, the surrounding space is flooded with cobalt blue light, punctuated only by a red diamond-shaped pattern projected in the corner. Perhaps an allusion to Jasper John’s American Flag from 1954, or an homage to Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box from 1964, untitled, 1984 powerfully probes a plethora of visual references. The viewer’s eye wanders between the blue and red hues and ultimately surrenders to the boundless, blended ambient light that emanates from this nuanced pairing.

    The present two lots, though executed over a decade apart, illustrate Flavin’s unwavering commitment to his light works for over thirty years, until his passing in 1996. His works are inextricably engrained within the canon of art history, paying respect to Constructivist masters Tatlin and Malevich, to Pop icons Johns and Warhol, and ultimately, to his own contemporaries such as Ryman. To this day, Flavin’s works exist as conceptual icons of modernism, radically transforming the environments they inhabit and immersing those who approach in their exquisite luminosity.

  • 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.

    View More Works



daylight and cool white fluorescent light
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.) square across a corner
Executed in 1970, this work is number 1 from an edition of 5, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

$180,000 - 250,000 

Sold for $237,500

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018