The Bright Side of Minimalism

The first time I encountered work by Dan Flavin I was absolutely overwhelmed. Entering into the gallery, I was suddenly swimming in blue fluorescent light that completely subsumed the space at the Hirshhorn Museum in mid-2015. Untitled (To Helga and Carlo, with respect and affection) is a long, demanding structure. Like many of Flavin’s works it forces itself to be seen and it interrupts the spectator’s physical movement. Its power incites emotion; with its staggering color and magnificent size the work creates an exceptionally unique experience.

Going to in daylight or cool white, the show currently on view at the David Zwirner gallery, I discarded all of my preceding opinions on how a Flavin work should feel as I knew these pieces would be unlike the others that I had seen before. Quickly, my suspicions were affirmed.

Featuring a large collection of Flavin’s minimal readymade structures, the Zwirner gallery made a point to incorporate none of his more colorful works. In fact, the closest these pieces come to interacting with hues is through slight differences in tint and the flipping of fluorescent lights, so that some emanate light from the back of the work as opposed to the front. More or less, all of these works harness white light and use it to their advantage by emphasizing the white walls of the gallery and amplifying the architectural structure — a practice that many Flavin works embody. This absence of color perform to the show’s advantage — through displaying a monochrome collection of Flavin works the curator is allowed the ability to pack so many of them in only a three gallery room space.

While breaking from Flavin’s iconic and wild color, the show still plays with the spatial interruption that one experiences while looking a more monumental or overwhelming piece. Immediately upon entering the space, a semicircle of cool white fluorescent light blocks the path and requires the visitor either to step over the work or to walk around it. This work interacts and changes the spectator’s dynamics within the gallery in a way that is more subtle than completely blocking out a path or a part of the room. This subtlety further allows the gallery to incorporate more works and establish this motif of Flavin’s work as present in the show.

More spatial interruption is showcased in the two corners of the gallery’s next chamber through untitled (to Cy Twombly) and untitled (to Helen Winkler). These works are transposed in the corner resting on the two walls that meet in behind the pieces. The way Flavin’s work is pushed into the corner and interrupts the space fights the conventions of mounting a work in a gallery and is reminiscent of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square from the Russian avant garde. It is slightly off-putting and precarious in the way it is displayed. However, Flavin uses this method of installation so that the fluorescent lighting that is strategically flipped around glows onto the back drop that is the gallery wall. This emphasizes depth and again showcases the architectural structure of the gallery space.

Overall, this show displays a calming foil to Flavin’s often bright environments seen at places like the Dia:Beacon and (formerly) the Hirshhorn. With the use of bright and cool white colors, these works together create a space that emanates warmth and serenity akin to that of basking in the sunlight or observing a nice spring day while maintaining the use of Flavin’s spatial interruptions and also displaying some of his more reserved yet iconic pieces. Dan Flavin: in daylight or cool white therefore proves to be a beautiful exhibit and a wonderful choice by the Zwirner gallery to help usher springtime into 2018.

Dan Flavin: in daylight or cool white will be on view at David Zwirner’s 537 West 20th Street location until April 14, 2018.