Dan Flavin

Dedications in Lights

NEUBAU / 02.03.–18.08.2024 / Curators: Josef Helfenstein, Olga Osadtschy


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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.

Back 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 emphasised seriality, reduction and matter-of-factness. Somewhat ironically, while the autodidact Flavin never himself sought membership to this movement in art, he would, and quite literally, go on to become one of its most illustrious exponents.

Flavin began work with fluorescent light tubes from the early 1960s on; arranged in so-called ‘situations’, he would then further develop them into series and large-scale installations. The colours and dimensions of the materials he used were prescribed by industrial production. Flooded in light, viewers themselves become part of the works: The space, along with 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 colour from the two-dimensionality of painting. The prevalent perception of his light works has, to date, largely centred 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 recognisable 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 in colourful light.

The curators of this major 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.


Dan Flavin’s dedications

Apollinaire wounded (to Ward Jackson), 1959

This work is an assemblage made from plaster, wood, oil paint, pencil, and a crushed aluminum can, and is dedicated to Flavin’s painter friend Ward Jackson (1928–2004).
He met Jackson in 1958 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, where both were working as guards. Jackson became a close friend and important advisor. The
title refers to French painter Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), who fought on the French front in World War I. He was injured in action in 1916 when a grenade fragment
struck his head. He later received an award for bravery.

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four red horizontals (to Sonja), 1963

In 1961 Flavin married Sonja Severdija, a student of art history at New York University who worked as an assistant in the Museum of Modern Art offices. At the same time, he
began work on his icons—simple wood constructions he and Sonja built with electric light. Flavin dedicated many of his works to his wife over the coming years, including
this one.

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the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), 1963

Flavin’s artistic breakthrough came with the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), a yellow fluorescent tube light that he mounted at a 45-degree angle on the
wall. The dedication is to sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), whose Endless Column at Targu Jiu (1938) served as inspiration. Flavin dedicated a subsequent version
of this work made shortly thereafter, in cool white, to art historian Robert Rosenblum. He attended his lectures at Columbia University in New York.

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alternate diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd), 1964

The group exhibition Eleven Artists, organized by Flavin, opened at the Kaymar Gallery in New York on March 31, 1964. There, Flavin showed his installation alternate
diagonals of March 2, 1964 (1964). The work is part of a series with four different color versions. Flavin later added the dedication (to Don Judd). Flavin met the minimalist artist Donald Judd (1928–1994) in Brooklyn in 1962 and the two became lifelong friends.

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pink out of a corner (to Jasper Johns), 1963

This work was first exhibited in Flavin’s solo show dan flavin: fluorescent light at Green Gallery in New York (November 18–December 12, 1964). He dedicated it to his fellow
artist, the painter Jasper Johns (b. 1930), who caused waves in the art world in the 1950s. Flavin placed the work in a corner, making a bold statement by quite literally
illuminating a space typically ignored.

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“monument” for V. Tatlin, 1964

Between 1964 and 1990, Flavin made a total of fifty works in the series “monuments” for V. Tatlin. Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) was an influential artist
following the 1917 Russian Revolution, and sought to express its ideals in his works. Flavin was particularly impressed by his Monument to the Third International, which
Tatlin planned in 1919–20. It inspired Flavin to create numerous configurations by simply using white fluorescent light. The tower Tatlin planned in the form of a double
helix was never realized due to a lack of materials and structural weaknesses. Tatlin himself fell out of favor during Stalinism.

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untitled (to Henri Matisse), 1964

Flavin dedicated this lightwork to Henri Matisse (1869–1954), a French artist active in the first half of the twentieth century. He was best known for his experiments with color
and his expressive, flat painting style.

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monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P.K. who reminded me about death), 1966

The exhibition Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors, curated by Kynaston McShine, opened at the Jewish Museum in New York in April 1966 (April 27–
June 12). Flavin’s work corner monument 4 for those who have been killed in ambush (to P. K. who reminded me about death) was included, and he intended it as a symbol of
protest against the Vietnam War. The dedication to his friend Paul Katz references a conversation in which Katz mentioned how many people had likely lost their lives in the
war. When the exhibition closed, the work was installed in the nightclub Max’s Kansas City, which had become a popular artist gathering spot in Lower Manhattan shortly after
it opened in 1965.

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untitled (to Barnett Newman), 1971

Painter Barnett Newman (1905–1970) died on July 4, 1970. Flavin dedicated the lightwork series untitled (to Barnett Newman) to his deceased friend. Considered an
Abstract Expressionist, Newman’s art was an important source of inspiration for Flavin. Shortly after Newman’s death, Flavin saw his work series Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow,
and Blue in his studio. Flavin was so enthused by Newman’s exploration of primary colors that he used red, yellow, and blue fluorescent lamps in a number of his own works.

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untitled (to a man, George McGovern) 1 and 2, 1972

Flavin dedicated this work to Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern, who ran against the Republican Richard Nixon in 1972. Flavin was one of many artists to
support McGovern’s campaign. The work was first shown in the exhibition an exposition of cool white and warm white circular fluorescent light from Dan Flavin at Leo Castelli
Gallery, New York (November 4–25, 1972). The exhibition opened only three days before the presidential election, in which McGovern lost.

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untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection), 1974

Starting in 1968, Flavin worked consistently with German art dealer Heiner Friedrich (b. 1938), who ran a gallery in Munich and immigrated to the United States in 1970.
Flavin made this work for the Dan Flavin: three installations in fluorescent light/Drei Installationen in fluoreszierendem Licht exhibition at Kunsthalle Köln (November 9,
1973–January 6, 1974). Friedrich co-founded the Dia Art Foundation in 1974. He was, and still remains, an important supporter of Flavin’s work.

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untitled (in memory of Urs Graf), 1975

Flavin made this work for the inner courtyard of Kunstmuseum Basel for a joint exhibition there and at Kunsthalle Basel in 1975. It is dedicated to Swiss Renaissance
artist Urs Graf (1485–1528). Flavin selected a number of his drawings from the museum’s prints department to be exhibited in the Kunstmuseum Basel that spring.

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untitled (in memory of Josef Albers) 1 and 2, 1977

Flavin made two lightworks dedicated to German painter and art theorist Josef Albers (1888–1976), both of which were among other works shown at the large installations by
Dan Flavin exhibition at Heiner Friedrich, Inc. in New York (Januar 15–February 26, 1977). Albers, considered one of the key Bauhaus figures, left Germany in 1933 when
the Nazis came to power and immigrated to the United States, where he taught for many years. He worked closely on color theories as well as the interplay and the effect of
individual colors.

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untitled (to my dear bitch, Airily) 2, 1984

Flavin traveled to many dog shows with his golden retriever, Airily. The dog won several competitions and received the highest rating ever awarded to a golden retriever in the United States. He dedicated this major installation to Airily as a sign of his affection for her.

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untitled (to Don Judd, colorist), 1987

Flavin dedicated a series to his friend Judd, which references the latter’s artistic work and use of industrially manufactured materials and forms in primary colors with heavy
irony. In 1997, numbers 1 to 5 in the series were installed in the building Judd bought at 101 Spring Street (today the Judd Foundation) in 1986.

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untitled (for Otto Freundlich), 1990

In the exhibition Dan Flavin: untitled (for Otto Freundlich) 1990 themes and variationsat Annemarie Verna Galerie in Zurich (May 31–July 14, 1990), Flavin dedicated a work
series to German painter, sculptor, and glass painter Otto Freundlich (1878–1943). Born in Germany, Freundlich moved to Paris in 1924. He lived there until 1943, when he was
deported to a concentration camp and murdered. He is regarded as one of the first abstract artists in Europe, but his work was seized by the Nazis and branded “degenerate.” In 1971, Flavin bought an ink drawing by Freundlich dated 1930.

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untitled (for John Heartfield), 1990

The exhibition in 1990 at the Donald Young Gallery in Chicago (September 27–October 27) featured this series for the first time. The lightworks were similarly constructed,
apart from the different color combinations, and were arranged as a series in the room. Flavin dedicated the work to the German artist John Heartfield (1891–1968), whose
politically charged works were banned in Germany by the Nazi regime.

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Vincent at Auvers, 1960

Flavin’s early work consists largely of drawings and watercolors. Throughout his career, he dedicated works not only to friends and relatives, but also to historical figures he
admired, such as Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Flavin was often inspired by the artists of the previous epochs and had a large collection of drawings from the 19th century. The words “As for my work, I do it at my life’s risk and half my reason has foundered in it.” can be read across the first six pages of Flavin’s leporello. The quote comes from a letter van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. The letter was found on Vincent’s body after his suicide attempt on July 27, 1890.

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Events for this exhibition

Sat 1 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «Dan Flavin. Widmungen aus Licht»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 2 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Guided tour of the exhibition "Dan Flavin. Dedications of Light"

Cost: Admission + CHF 5.

Sat 8 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «Dan Flavin. Widmungen aus Licht»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sat 15 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «Dan Flavin. Widmungen aus Licht»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Wed 19 Jun

CURATOR'S TOUR

NEUBAU
18:30–19:30

Curator guided tour "Dan Flavin"

With the assistant curator Elena Degen. Costs: Admission + CHF 5.

Fri 21 Jun

HAUPTBAU Innenhof
18:00–20:00

Walkshop 4: The Shadow and the Heart

With Valerio Rocco Orlando, artist and Research Fellow at the University of Basel, Department of Urban Studies. Age: From 16 years. If we consider art as a tool for imaginative and critical thinking, we can look at the city from a different perspective, understand it more and become aware of what remains in the shadows. In dialogue with a group of students of the Urban Studies Masters from the University of Basel, Valerio Rocco Orlando, artist and researcher, will activate a walkshop in the city of Basel to give voice to stories that take place in the margins of society, and bring inhabitants into the heart of urban life. Participation free of charge, ticket required via ticket link.

Treffpunkt: Kunstmuseum Basel | at the entrance of the Hauptbau

Sat 22 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «Dan Flavin. Widmungen aus Licht»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Sun 23 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Visite guidée de l'exposition « Dan Flavin. Dédicaces de lumière »

In French. Coût : entrée + CHF 5.

Tue 25 Jun

RENDEZ-VOUS AM MITTAG

NEUBAU
12:30–13:00

Rendez-vous am Mittag: «Dan Flavin»

In German. Mit der Assistenzkuratorin Olga Osdatschy und wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiterin Elena Degen. Kosten: Eintritt.

Sat 29 Jun

NEUBAU
14:00–15:00

Führung in der Ausstellung «Dan Flavin. Widmungen aus Licht»

In German. Kosten: Eintritt + CHF 5.

Fri 5 Jul

HAUPTBAU Innenhof
21:00–23:00

Walkshop 5: Projecting Perceptions | An unofficial institutional critique

What lies in the shadows of Kunstmuseum Basel and what needs to be illuminated? Beyond its acclaimed collection and exhibitions, the Kunstmuseum Basel thrives on the often unseen efforts and intricate workings that maintain its influence and legacy. In this walkshop, we want to question and uncover these vital yet hidden aspects of the museum’s operation. The Unofficial Hiking Society AG invites you to a night tour around the museum to shed light not only on the façade but also on unofficial narratives of the institution.

Treffpunkt: Kunstmuseum Basel | at the entrance of the Hauptbau

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