Dan Flavin


1933, New York, New York
1996, Riverhead, New York


After a brief stint at seminary and meteorological training in the military, Dan Flavin pursued his artistic studies in the late 1950s at Columbia University and the New School. By 1961, he had abandoned his early assemblages of found objects and begun his signature work: sculptural installations made from fluorescent light bulbs.

Like the work of his fellow Minimalists, Flavin’s art is clean, industrially produced, and serially repeating. These qualities were developed in opposition to the gestural expressionist painting dominant in postwar American art. The use of ordinary light bulbs also references the twin modernist obsessions with pure technology and everyday life.

By basing his work as much in radiated light as in the bulbs themselves, Flavin set the stage for much of the experience-oriented installation work that continues today.

Audio Stories

Curator Tiffany Bell on Flavin’s use of light

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SFX: Buzzing and sputtering of a fluorescent bulb turning on.  



At first, it might not look like there’s a lot here. Just this…lightbulb, oddly installed. But stare at this for long enough, and you might start to see some interesting effects.  


SFX: Music 



Check out how the light dances around the room. The way the colors seem to change.  

This is Dan Flavin’s world. He’s known for making sculptures out of lights. Specifically fluorescent lights. The domain of dreary office spaces, cheap apartments, and places like… Walmart. Why would an artist focus on something so mundane? We asked Tiffany Bell, who worked with Flavin for many years.  



The use of light denotes some sort of spiritual presence sometimes in painting. So I think it was the cross between the mundane and the kind of spiritual that attracted him.  


SFX: buzzing returns  



If you can, check it out from different angles. See how the light bounces off the wall and spills onto the floor. Where does this work even begin and end? 



It does make you feel present in time and space. His work carries in it this kind of temporality — it’s there, when it’s on; and then when it’s off, it’s not there.  



So here’s a question – if someone turns the light switch off —  


SFX: Music ends, silent pause 


does it stop being art? 


SFX: buzzing goes out, as if light switch was turned off 

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