Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
Property from the Collection of Paul Maenz, Berlin
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)

untitled (to Barnett Newman) four

Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
untitled (to Barnett Newman) four
yellow, blue and red fluorescent light
95 7/8 x 47 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (243.5 x 121.6 x 20 cm.)
Executed in 1971. This work is number one from an edition of five, of which only three were fabricated during the artist's lifetime, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
W. Domingo, “New York Galleries: Dan Flavin at Dwan,” Arts Magazine, v. 45, no. 6, April 1971, p. 82 (illustrated).
C. Ratcliff, “Reviews and Previews,” Art News, v. 70, no. 2, April 1971, p. 12.
Drawings and Diagrams from Dan Flavin 1963-1972, exh. cat., St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, 1973, p. 76.
M. Govan and T. Bell, eds., Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights, 1961-1996, New York, 2004, p. 297, no. 269 (diagram illustrated in color).
Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, Dan Flavin, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel Ostfildern, 2013, p. 141, no. 38 (another example illustrated in color).
New York, Dwan Gallery, untitleds (to Barnett Newman) 1971 from Dan Flavin, March 1971.
Kunsthaus Zurich and Geneva, Musée Rath, Contemporary Art from the FMC Collection: Acquisitions 1977-1986, May 1984-November 1986, p. 27 and cover (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum and Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, Rot, Gelb, Blau: die Primärfarben in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, March-September 1988, pp. 147 and 180 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Twenty-five Years, Part I, October-November 1993 (another example exhibited).
Lugano, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Contemporary Art from the Collection of the Federation of Migros Cooperatives, April-June 1994, pp. 43 and 109, no. 24 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Schlossmuseum Weimar, Der Fürst schmollt. Moderne trifft Klassik. Werke aus der Sammlung Paul Maenz, June-July 1994.
Neues Museum Weimar, Neues Museum Weimar: die Sammlung Paul Maenz, January-December 1999, pp. 54-55 and 318, no. 13 (illustrated in color).
New York, David Zwirner Gallery, Dan Flavin: Corners, Barriers and Corridors, September-October 2015 (another example exhibited).

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Dan Flavin, like several other pioneering Minimalists, initially was a painter. As he shed his identity as an expressionist artist who applied pigments to canvas, Flavin went through yet another phase he shared in common with his Minimalist colleagues. For a brief period, he worked with discarded waste materials creating assemblages, a type of multi-media artwork that curator William C. Seitz featured in an eponymous landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961.

Flavin, however, did not totally renounce painting when he created Apollinaire Wounded (to Ward Jackson), Gus Schultze’s Screwdriver (to Dick Bellamy). and other related works. The young artist, to be sure, attached a crushed tin can he found in the street to one Masonite panel and a mangled screwdriver to another. But he slathered the surfaces of these boards, with thick, creamy, monochromatic oil pigments and also, scrawled the titles of the works (but not their dedications).

Then, beginning in 1961 and lasting for three years, Flavin constructed a series of icons. Some of these Masonite wall boxes, which he constructed from scratch, were practically a foot thick. He painted each one of them in one color, and affixed to their tops, sides, and beveled corners, fluorescent tubes and other types of electric light bulbs that the artist’s wife Sonja Severdija wired so that they cast light. Flavin identified the different icons with Roman numerals, titled them with a small case i, and added the sorts of dedications in parentheses that he already had begun to use. Discussing these works with me in 1972, Flavin recalled, “I can’t understand why it took me so long to get rid of them. One reason may be that I am a compulsive carpenter and finisher. It took me three years to make eight of them. That’s ridiculous since they should have been gotten rid of. It slowed me down. They weren’t worth the time.”
As it was, the proverbial light went off in Flavin’s head some time during May 1963. That’s when the 30-year-old artist took a single fluorescent tube held in its white containing pan and attached the unit to a wall on a diagonal. He never looked back; his career was launched.

Color remained an integral part of Flavin’s practice. Though his choices were limited by what was available in fluorescent fixtures, he produced a multitude of variations in terms of the ways he combined daylight white, cool white, red, blue, yellow, pink, and green tubes of varying lengths. Early on, he recognized that the diffuse light with which he was working was held in check by their white containing pans. In 1965, Flavin wrote, “The radiant tube and the shadow cast by its pan seemed ironic enough to hold on alone. There was no need to compose this lamp in place; it implanted itself directly, dynamically, dramatically in my workroom wall—a buoyant and relentless gaseous image which, through brilliance, betrayed its physical presence into approximate invisibility.”

For the first decade or so, Flavin continually discovered how the different colors would interact with one another. When I asked him about this in 1972, the artist explained, “In time you learn how to manage it, if you want to do something with color and color relativity. You learn that green is very demonstrative and red isn’t. I understand it’s because it is a negative production. A process of elimination produces red. Then you learn about the relativities of it—that red is a rather precious thing in fluorescent light, as it once was in the historical traditions of Western painting. You have to manage red very carefully.”

Flavin’s dedications, which he once described as being a sentimental gesture, point to some of the influences that inspired him. A handful refer to sculptors: Vladimir Tatlin, Constantine Brancusi, David Smith, Sandy Calder, and Ken Price. A number identify friends whose work he admired: Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Bob Rohm, Michael Venezia, Dewain Valentine, and Robert Ryman. The largest group of artists to whom he dedicated his work were painters—and they are a mixed bag: Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns, Charlotte [Parks] and Jim Brooks, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Cy Twombly, Josef Albers, John Heartfield, Otto Freundlich, Burgoyne Diller, and Ad Reinhardt.

Over the years, on four different occasions, Flavin referenced the work of Barnett Newman. All occurred after the death of the Abstract Expressionist on July 4, 1970. The first, a corner piece of variable height, was composed with red, yellow, and blue light fixtures and was designated, untitled (to Barnett Newman) four to commemorate his simple problem, red, yellow, and blue. Flavin was alluding to a painting, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, that he saw in the abstractionist’s studio shortly after the painter’s death. In his exposition, a term the Minimalist liked to use when referring to his art, all three colors cast light on the adjacent walls.
Newman had been a father figure to a younger generation. Though he had been painting for decades, he only had held his first important solo show in 1959 at French and Company. But it was not just his paintings that the emergent artists admired. Newman always was there when they needed help or advice. When, for example, Larry Poons’ father was dismayed that his son wanted to become painter, Newman spoke to the businessman and assuaged his concerns.

These days, Newman is associated with abstractions with vertical stripes or what he termed, zips. But as late as 1969, when, as a graduate student, I visited his apartment on West End Avenue, he very intently showed me two paintings he had executed with horizontal stripes in 1949. That’s why I’m not surprised that the four versions of untitled (to Barnett Newman) are anchored by a horizontal yellow fluorescent light facing out across the top and bottom of the corner pieces.

Each of the four square corner pieces, however, involves a different permutation of the red and blue lights that face the walls. (The reds, incidentally, are half the size of the blues; there are two reds for every blue.) When you look into the
four works, you see something different in each one. To each side of the first, there are red tubes; to the second, blue ones; the third, has blue on the left side and red on the right; and the fourth, red on the left side and blue on the right. But oddly, the corner walls of each of untitled (to Barnett Newman) four are blue. The drawings for these works reveal the answer.

When you are standing by these corner pieces, you cannot see that there are actually two sets of vertical light fixtures on each side and that blue tubes appear at both ends of each work.This should have been obvious because there are two containing pans facing out on each side of untitled (to Barnett Newman) four. Instead of being white, the unusual color of the containing pans Flavin used, they are silver. They resemble columns. Or, perhaps, like the frame on a painting.

These casings are much more important than most people realize. Flavin would talk about this, but few commentators seem to have taken notice. “I can’t explain,” the artist once noted, “why the colored light allows itself to be crossed and to pass through others. Part of it involves the trapping against reflecting surfaces—the case cover for the fixture and the opposite sidewall. The case cover is important because the light source is mainly unfocused.”

There was much that Flavin had to say about his art that has fallen by the wayside. That’s why he probably should have the last word regarding how he felt about traditional sculpture vis a vis his own efforts. It reveals much about what he thought he was accomplishing when he created art with his amazing colored light fixtures. Flavin said, “I don’t like the term sculpture applied to what I do….I’m just not so heavily interested in form as such, in complication and composition. I think that tends to get you away from what our notion of sculpture is—as mass and modeling, fitting together, attaching, surrounding volumes of air.”

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