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Review of reviews: Art

Dan Flavin: Constructed Light

Dan Flavin: Constructed LightPulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. LouisThrough Oct. 4

Dan Flavin “was the most radical and the most lyrical” of the minimalist sculptors who redefined the form in the 1960s, said David Bonetti in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Flavin’s contemporaries strove for maximum simplification by stripping their works of ornament, color, and pattern. He took an opposite tack, filling his sculptures with the “pure joy of color and light.” Flavin’s trademark method of construction was to arrange colored fluorescent tubes into simple intersecting and overlapping patterns. This causes colors to bleed and blend in unexpected ways. The collection of sculptures currently at the Pulitzer Foundation exhibits the range of effects Flavin could achieve. In addition to being a pioneering minimalist, “Flavin led the way in creating environmental or ambient art,” a form that’s now all the rage. One work here is a 180-foot-long piece built of blue and green tubes that “rises gently through the length of the Pulitzer’s main gallery.”

Flavin was obsessed with creating artworks for the settings in which they would be displayed, said Malcolm Gay in the St. Louis Riverfront Times. This exhibition thus raises a “thorny question”—which it doesn’t satisfyingly answer—by transplanting sculptures originally meant to be seen elsewhere. The pedestrian origins of Flavin’s glowing fluorescent lights take on a special meaning in a gritty New York gallery or former industrial settings. By showing them in the sleek modern spaces of the Pulitzer Foundation, the curators of this exhibition “are, in effect, creating new works of art.” So purists may be offended, but the rest of us will prize this chance to tune in to Flavin’s meditative wavelength.

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