Mental Floss

The Flavor of Flavin

Andréa Fernandes

Since next Saturday will be the 12th anniversary of Dan Flavin's death, today's post features the American artist at the request of reader nikki. Flavin made a name for himself with fluorescent light sculptures, like "untitled" and "untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3," both shown above.

1. A former altar boy, Dan Flavin "fondly recalled the ritual of the Mass as "˜rich in candlelight, music, chant, vestments, processions and incense.'" At the urging of his father, who wanted him to be a priest, Flavin even attended a seminary for four years.

2. Before he began working with lights, Flavin created artwork that often included poems or other texts "set in gestural decorative designs." One 1961 work, "My Dove, my Beautiful One, Arise, Arise," was based on a poem by James Joyce. That same year, Flavin wrote his own poem, in which he first explored the beauty of fluorescent lights.

3. Of his work, Flavin said, "It is what it is, and it ain't nothin' else." His works went against the idea that art is complex or hard to understand. As he said, "There is no overwhelming spirituality you are supposed to come into contact with"¦ It's in a sense a "˜get-in-get-out' situation. And it is very easy to understand. One might not think of light as a matter of fact, but I do. And it is, as I said, as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find.

4. Flavin's first fluorescent light sculpture, "the diagonal of personal ecstasy (the diagonal of May 25, 1963)" was dedicated to Constantin Brancusi. Flavin admired Brancusi's 1918 "Endless Column" and his own work was a take on Brancusi's sculpture.

5. The twice-married Flavin collaborated with both his wives on some of his projects, as well as dedicated some sculptures to them. His second wedding, to Tracy Harris, took place at the Guggenheim Museum in 1992.

6. Flavin created eight "icons," or "boxlike reliefs" with colored lights attached, before he began creating his larger light sculptures. Though their names are reminiscent of religious iconography, Flavin's works are the opposite of religious iconography. Flavin explains: "My icons differ from a Byzantine Christ held in majesty; they are dumb—anonymous and inglorious."

Larger versions of "untitled" (left) and "untitled (in honor of Harold Joachim) 3" (right) are available. Fans should check out the Dan Flavin Art Institute; the Dan Flavin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery and the NGA; the children's guide to Flavin from NGA; Flavin's installations at Richmond Hall and Santa Maria Annunciata in Chiesa Rossa; and this video of Flavin's installation at the Pulitzer Foundation. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.