Few artists are more identified with a particular medium than Dan Flavin. After 1963 Flavin’s work was composed almost entirely of light in the form of commercially available fluorescent tubes in ten colors (blue, green, pink, red, yellow, ultraviolet, and four whites) and five shapes (one circular and four straight fixtures of different lengths). In his earliest fluorescent works he arranged fixtures in varying autonomous configurations, as in the series of “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1964–90) and gold, pink and red, red (1964), both of which are currently on view at Dia:Beacon. As he began to create brightly colored and spatially aware works in the mid-1960s, he described his practice as “decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.”
Akin to his contemporaries, such as Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, and Donald Judd, Flavin shared a reductive formal vocabulary, an emphasis on serial rather than gestural forms, and a focus on the phenomenological presence of objects that must be experienced in real time and space. In 1966 Flavin developed his signature “barriers”—a freestanding series of fixtures that physically block a passageway or a segment of a space with light. These architectural interventions take serial repetition as their point of departure. For example, Flavin’s untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) (1973) consists of square, fluorescent green units placed side by side at two-foot intervals, until a space is clearly blocked. The dimensions of this site-responsive installation are variable and aim to disrupt the architecture of the exhibition space. Horizontally bisecting one of Dia:Beacon’s lower level galleries, the green barrier draws attention to the complicated relationship between the optical and physical elements of the artist’s practice.
This installation is one of several works that Flavin dedicated to his longtime patron and Dia cofounder Heiner Friedrich. That said, despite Flavin’s often personal or sentimental titles and his deep awareness of the historical symbolism of light in art, he always refused to attach symbolic or transcendent significance to his art.