Dan Flavin — Dedications in Lights

© stephen flavin / 2024, prolitteris, zurich; panza collection, mendrisio

Kunstmuseum Basel
Until August 18, 2024

American artist Dan Flavin (1933-1996) was a pioneer of Minimal Art. He rose to fame in the 1960s with his work with industrially manufactured fluorescent tubes, inventing a new art form and securing his place in art history. The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel focuses on his works that are dedicated to other artists or make reference to certain events.

In 1963, Dan Flavin mounted a single, industrial fluorescent light tube at a 45-degree angle to the wall of his studio declaring it art; the act was radical, and it still is. Indeed, it was owing to this action that standard commercial products would be introduced into art: The nascent Minimal Art of the era emphasized seriality, reduction, and matter-of-factness. Somewhat ironically, while the autodidact Flavin himself never sought membership to this movement in art, he would, quite literally, go on to become one of its most illustrious exponents.

Flavin began to work with fluorescent light tubes from the early 1960s; arranged in so-called “situations,” he would further develop them into series and large-scale installations. The colors and dimensions of the materials he used were prescribed by industrial production. Flooded in light, viewers themselves become part of the works: The space and the objects within it are set in relation to each other and thus become immersive experiences of art, triggering sensual, almost spiritual experiences.

Flavin liberated color from the two-dimensionality of painting. The prevalent perception of his light works has, to date, largely centered on their minimalist, industrial aspect, and thus on the inherent simplicity of their beauty. The exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel, by contrast, places emphasis on looking at Flavin’s oeuvre in a less familiar setting—his pieces, although initially without clearly recognizable signature, frequently make reference in their titles to concrete events, such as wartime atrocities or police violence, or are dedicated to other artists—as in the work “untitled (in memory of Urs Graf),” which every evening suffuses the inner courtyard of the Hauptbau of Kunstmuseum Basel in colorful light.

The curators of this special exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel examine these narrative strategies by means of works and series drawn from Flavin’s oeuvre and invite visitors to take a sensory exploration of his unique body of work.