Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Hirshhorn acquires major Dan Flavin ‘barrier’

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The Hirshhorn has acquired Dan Flavin’s 1974 untitled (to Helga and Carlo, with respect and affection) [at left]. The work, which is unique,  was included in David Zwirner Gallery’s 2009 Flavin exhibition. It’s made of blue fluorescent light modular units, each with two four-foot vertical fixtures and three four-foot horizontal fixtures and may be installed up to 60 feet long. It is one of several so-called ‘barrier’ works that Flavin created in 1974. Among the others Flavin created that year were pink and yellow versions.

Michael Govan, a co-curator of Flavin’s 2004 retrospective, argued in both that exhibition’s catalogue and in Dan Flavin: The Complete Lights (which substantially available on Google Books) that Flavin’s barriers are particularly important to the history of contemporary art: “By the sheer amount of light [Flavin’s first ‘barrier’] produced and the aggressive manner in which it overtook (or “abused” in the artist’s words) the room that defined its dimensions, Flavin’s barrier might be considered one of the first examples of what today is known ubiquitously as ‘installation art’ — or what Flavin referred to as ‘situational.'”

Govan reports that Flavin first explored the idea in a drawing made as a proposal for a “barrier” in Manhattan’s Kornblee Gallery in 1966. That drawing shows two low gates of light filling a gallery space and crossing each other off-center, toward the back right-hand corner of the room as the viewer enters the space. Flavin did not realize that work and instead debuted a barrier later that year at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.  That work, which also filled an entire gallery, was titled greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) [below, now in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum] and consisted of two ‘light fences.’ From the very beginning, these Flavin ‘barriers’ were of variable length.

The Hirshhorn’s new Flavin is more closely related to a fence-like barrier that Flavin created in 1969, when he made untitled (to Heiner Friedrich), for a traveling retrospective that that opened at the National Gallery of Canada in September of that year. The largest of Flavin’s barriers is aparently untitled (to you Heiner, with admiration and affection), a 36-meter-long piece Flavin made in 1973 for the Cologne Kunsthalle. It was prominently installed in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building on the occasion of the 2004 Dia/NGA retrospective. The piece was so bright that the NGA reported that planes landing at nearby National Airport could see its green glow.

The Hirshhorn now has two Flavins in its collection. It also owns “monument” for V. Tatlin (1967).

Throughout today I’ll be tweeting other new Hirshhorn acquisitions. Follow me here.

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  1. Ed says:

    Congrats to the Hirshhorn! That’s a great piece.

  2. greg.org says:

    that is a sweet piece. though I think the first example of this type of square-module barrier is Untitled (for Flavin Starbuck Judd), which was first shown in the Gementemuseem in1968. It’s red and blue, so not monochrome like these three others, obviously. But if I remember the explanation correctly, Flavin devised it almost precisely to the inch to fit in Judd’s Spring St. loft.

  3. Tyler Green says:

    That piece is from 1968. The 1966 pieces in the post are the initial (unrealized) drawing and the piece now in the Panza Collection at the Guggenheim. So they came first…

  4. greg.org says:

    true true, I meant the more Heiner Friedrich-style ones. And I was wrong about the Untitled (Flavin Starbuck Judd), which, though it has the square modules, as the Govan essay notes, it’s only 2-ft high.

    Just looked it up, and the one at Spring St is Untitled, 1970, 8×8-ft modules fitted with red & blue to allude to the earlier, shrimpier version named for Judd’s son. So a big never mind, as you were.

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