Dan Flavin at the Ikon Gallery



Image By Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France from France [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I had the chance to visit this exhibition when in Birmingham – my first time at this gallery also.

I always used to be “suspicious” of the more contemporary art forms, but undertaking the Level I and 2 History of Art courses has taught me to think more deeply about what is on display rather than rely on stereotypes and assumptions.

Dan Flavin’s work is a good example of how I have learnt to appreciate art. Before doing the courses I would not have given much credence to art that used coloured fluorescent tubes, perhaps would not even have wanted to go to see such an exhibition. Now I am much more open-minded and would want to visit any style of art in order to make my own, informed judgement on it rather than rely on prejudices of my own or others.

I found Flavin’s work interesting – it was using a different light form to achieve its effects. Paintings and photographic prints rely on reflected light whereas Flavin uses both transmitted and reflected light (off wall surfaces) for effect. The predominant effect initially is a strong transmitted light that one encounters when first looking at the work, but then one’s attention is drawn to the reflections of the colours (and interactions of colours) on the walls and support behind the work.

As opposed to say painting or photography, the use of coloured fluorescent tubes could be seen as a limitation on what can be achieved, but Flavin utilises the material to its fullest extent.

To me his work is mainly about pattern (usually geometric) and light – whether soft white light casting an even glow or colour and the interaction of colours.

In these terms I found the work very successful and giving a pleasurable experience – especially as one discovers further patterns of interaction within the work as one studies it (i.e. the whole surrounding space – not just the light tubes themselves).

It is interesting to note that Flavin only used commercially available tubes rather than making or commissioning new ones – it seems very much in the Duchamp “ready-made” tradition.

People have read implied narratives, whether religious or conceptual, into different pieces of Flavin’s work. The artist himself denied any of this existed claiming “it is what it is and it ain’t nothing else”. I admired and enjoyed the effect of Flavin’s work, but struggled to find any implicit meaning in it – in this respect I completely agree with the artist’s sentiment.