A Post-Metaphysical Turn: Contingency and Givenness in the Early Work of Dan Flavin (1959–1964)

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light installations have long served art historians by marking the turn from the late modernist illusionist space of painting to the new immanence of specific objects. In the narration of this genealogy, the crux of minimalism, as Hal Foster calls it, rests on a nominal approach that proclaims metaphysical relations as an obstacle and calls out to evade any notion of meaning. By contrast, this essay asserts the primacy of metaphysics in Flavin’s [en]lighted work. By tracing the artist’s scholastic education, his contemporary theo-political stance, and his rejection of objecthood, I argue that Flavin was continuously preoccupied with Catholic theology and that his work is imbued with Christian iconography. Thinking alongside the fourteenth-century philosopher William of Ockham and the twentieth-century post-Husserlian phenomenology of Jean-Luc Marion, the evolution of Flavin’s light constructions proves relevant to the quandary of metaphysics and the role of theology in radical immanence. To bracket his metaphysics is to ignore the full implications of his art.

Sections

References

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10)

Lucy R. Lippard, “Dan Flavin, Kaymar Gallery” 54; and “New York Letter” 37. For further critical reviews see Paula Feldman and Karsten Schubert eds., it is what it is: writings on Dan Flavin since 1964.

Figures

  • Dan Flavin. Thomas Aquinas Doctor of Canon Law, 1959. Metal, crushed tin can and watercolor on paper on Masonite, mounted on pine, 7 3/8 × 5 11/16 × 7/8 inches (18.9 × 14.6 × 2.4 cm). © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. To those who sufffer in the Congo, 1961. Brush and ink and watercolor, 26 × 20 inches (66 × 50.8 cm). © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Installation view. “dan flavin: some light,” Kaymar Gallery, New York, 1964 © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC (2012); courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Russian (Novgorod?) Painter, late fijifteenth century. Christ in Glory, Icon, 1470–1499. Tempera on wood, 42 1/8 × 30 7/8 inches (107 × 78.4 cm). The Gift of George R. Hann, 1944 (44.101). © 2012 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image Resource: Art Resource, NY.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. Iconostases (for icons I, II, III, and IV), 1962. Graphite pencil on paper, 11 × 13 7/8 inches (27.9 × 35.2 cm). © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. Icon IV (the pure land) (to David John Flavin [1933–1962]), 1962–69. Formica and daylight fluorescent light, 44 1/2 × 44 1/2 × 11 1/8 inches (113 × 113 × 28.6 cm) excluding fijixture and lamp; approx. 48 3/8 inches (122.9 cm) high including fijixture and lamp. CL no. 4. © 2012 Stephen Flavin/ SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. The diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), 1963. Yellow fluorescent light, 8 ft. (244 cm) long on the diagonal. CL no. 13. Photo by Billy Jim, New York. © 2012 Stephen Flavin/ SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. The nominal three (to William of Ockham), 1963. Daylight fluorescent light, 8 ft. (244 cm) high. CL no. 26. Photo by Cathy Carver. © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery
  • Dan Flavin. Untitled (Green Gallery), 1964. Graphite pencil on paper, 4 7/8 × 8 inches (12.38 × 20.3 cm). © 2012 Stephen Flavin/SODRAC; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.
    View in gallery

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