Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
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PROPERTY FROM THE MATTHYS-COLLE COLLECTION
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)

the diagonal of May 25, 1963

Details
Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
the diagonal of May 25, 1963
pink fluorescent light
length: 96in. (244cm.)
Executed in 1963, this work is number one from an edition of three
Provenance
Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Munich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1972.
Literature
M. Govan and T. Bell (eds.), Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights 1961-1996, New York 2005, no. 20 (diagram illustrated in colour, p. 219).
D. Grosz, ‘Light & Shape, Enough for Everyone’, in The New York Sun, vol. 122, no. 169, Winter 2006.
Exhibited
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Dan Flavin, 2006 (another from the edition exhibited).
Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Verzameling Roger en Hilda Matthys-Colle, 2007, p. 140 (illustrated in colour, p. 39).
Post lot text
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Acquired by the Matthys-Colles in 1972, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 stems from Dan Flavin’s seminal series of same-titled works. Existing in nine colours, these sculptures were the first works in the artist’s oeuvre made solely from fluorescent light: the medium that would come to define his practice. Created in 1963, the series is now considered a key milestone in the history of Minimalism, with examples held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Dia Art Foundation, New York. The present work illuminates its surroundings with an ethereal pink glow, blurring the divide between the solid eight-foot lamp and the immaterial light that emanates from within. Flavin described these creations as ‘icons’: a term that links them to the sumptuous gold leaf surfaces of Russian icon paintings, which he had encountered at an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the previous year. Indeed, the artist rejoiced in the disparity between their humble, utilitarian apparatus – simple light fixtures ordered from a shop in Brooklyn – and the weightless transcendental effects they created. In an autobiographical essay of 1965, he spoke of the diagonal as a form of ‘personal ecstasy’, its 45-degree inclination representing a position of ‘dynamic equilibrium’. ‘Regard the light and you are fascinated’, he continued, ‘– inhibited from grasping its limits at each end’ (D. Flavin, ‘“... in daylight or cool white.” An autobiographical sketch', Artforum, Vol. 4, December 1965, pp. 20-24).

Flavin’s ideas for his fluorescent ‘icons’ developed during his time as a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History, where – as he recalls – ‘I crammed my uniform pockets with notes for an electric light art’ (D. Flavin, ibid.). Disillusioned with his previous practice, which had largely consisted of assemblages and drawings, he left his job in the early 1960s to pursue this ambition full-time. Flavin rejected the term ‘sculpture’ as a descriptor of his works, viewing them as ineffable, ephemeral and wholly dependent on their surroundings. Continuing the legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, he conceived his works as ‘proposals’: stages of enquiry within a larger investigation that would consume him for the rest of his career. Another important source of inspiration was the 1937 memorial sculpture Endless Column by Constantin Brâncusi, to whom Flavin would dedicate the first work in the ‘diagonal’ series. ‘Both structures had a uniform elementary visual nature’, he wrote. ‘But they were intended to excel their obvious visible limitations of length and their apparent lack of expressiveness – visually – spiritually. “The endless column” had evident overtones returning to distant symbols. It was like some archaic mythologic totem which had continued to grow, surging skyward. “The diagonal”, on the other hand, in the possible extent of its dissemination as a common strip of light or a shimmering slice across anybody’s wall, had the potential for becoming a modern technological fetish’ (D. Flavin, ibid.). Combining an otherworldly, near-devotional presence with the banal, quotidian associations of its medium, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 ultimately set the stage for the evolution of such dualisms within Minimalist thought and practice.

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