The Artist Birthday Series

Dan Flavin

Today’s Artist Birthday: Dan Flavin (1 April, 1933 – 29 November, 1996), minimalist master of light

“One might not think of light as a matter of fact, but I do. And it is, as I said, as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find.” —Dan Flavin, 1987

Daniel Nicholas Flavin Jr. was born in New York of Irish Catholic descent and sent to Catholic schools. He studied for the priesthood at the Immaculate Conception Preparatory Seminary in Brooklyn between 1947 and 1952 before leaving to join his fraternal twin brother, David John Flavin, and enlist United States Air Force. During military service in 1954–55, Flavin was trained as an air weather meteorological technician and studied art through the adult extension program of the University of Maryland in Korea. Upon his return to New York in 1956, Flavin briefly attended the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts and studied art under Albert Urban. He later studied art history for a short time at the New School for Social Research, then moved on to Columbia University, where he studied painting and drawing.

From 1959, Flavin was shortly employed as a mailroom clerk at the Guggenheim Museum and later as guard and elevator operator at the Museum of Modern Art. Flavin’s first works were drawings and paintings that reflected the influence of Abstract Expressionism. It was at this time he began to make assemblages and mixed media collages that included found objects from the streets, especially crushed cans.

"Juan Gris in Paris (adieu Picabia)," by Dan Flavin, crushed can, acrylic collage, 1960
“Juan Gris in Paris (adieu Picabia),” by Dan Flavin, crushed can, acrylic collage, 1960

In the summer of 1961, while working as a guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Flavin started to make sketches for sculptures that incorporated electric lights. The first works to incorporate electric light were his “Icons” series: eight colored shallow, boxlike square constructions made from various materials such as wood, Formica, or Masonite. The “Icons” had fluorescent tubes with incandescent and fluorescent bulbs attached to their sides, and sometimes beveled edges. One of these icons was dedicated to Flavin’s twin brother David, who died of polio in 1962.

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2 thoughts on “Dan Flavin

  1. Hello
    I am an employee of an agency called LOL Company in Korea.
    We will be exhibiting Dan Flavin’s exhibition at the Lotte Museum in Korea from January 2018.
    While looking up your post, I would like to ask you if we can use the bottom-most picture of the current page as an online poster background.
    Please mail me to my e-mail address
    Thank you.
    Have a good day

    1. Hello there,

      I am afraid I cannot find the email you sent me, please resend and I will be happy to answer you in full there. In the meantime, the photo information is: “A visitor views a light sculpture by artist Dan Flavin, part of the art exhibition “Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-garde in the 1970s” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., April 4, 2012. (David Duprey/Associated Press)” – I use the image here under the Fair Use understanding, in an educational, non-commercial context. For your use, you may want to contact the Associated Press directly. I found this contact page that might help:

      I see also the newspaper “The Telegraph” used the photo as well at one time, perhaps you can reach out to them and perhaps they might have more information about usage for you: – contact info here:

      If there is anything else I can do to assist, please let me know. Thank you!

      Best to you!

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