Dan Flavin – It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else


Finding myself in Birmingham, I decided to check out a show by American artist Dan Flavin (1933-1996) at the Ikon gallery.


The gallery is situated in Brindley Place, in the centre of what looks like a building boom. Birmingham city centre has been transformed in the last few years with word on the street that many of London’s financial institutions are relocating there.

So Ikon presents a major exhibition of fluorescent light works by Dan Flavin. Taking his statement “It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else” as a departure point, Ikon’s exhibition exemplifies Flavin’s emphasis on the importance of the context of artistic experience, capitalising on the variety of interiors that Ikon Gallery has to offer.


One of the earliest works in the exhibition is alternate diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd), made shortly after Flavin centred his entire artistic practice on the use of fluorescent light. The bright red and yellow are Judd-like, likewise the fluorescent lamp combinations of white, pink, red, yellow, blue and green in untitled (to Don Judd, colorist) 1–6 (1987). These standard colours are as beguiling as they are industrial and ordinary, together bathing the exhibition space in pale radiant light.


Flavin dedicated many of his works to friends, family and colleagues. At the heart of Ikon’s exhibition is untitled (to Barnett Newman) one, two, three and four (all 1971), an installation that frames the corners of the room and alludes to the older artist’s celebrated series of four paintings, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. The work conveys both Newman’s disdain for the picturesque in art and Flavin’s interest in architectural environments.


Even though a gallery attendant young enough to be my daughter telling me I couldn’t photograph the work rubbed me up the wrong way, a few coughs over camera clicks later, I enjoyed the subtle fluorescent pieces, which managed to be somehow convey warmth and a sterile coldness, all in the same breath.

Note to Self:

  • I have been to a few other shows recently. Mention them here.

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