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The Materials of Minimalism

Explore how Minimalists embraced the techniques and materials of manufacturing and industry.


"monument" 1 for V. Tatlin

Dan Flavin
(American, 1933–1996)

1964. Fluorescent lights and metal fixtures, 8' x 23 1/8" x 4 1/2" (243.8 x 58.7 x 10.8 cm)

Monument 1 for V. Tatlin (1964) is the first of 39 “monuments” Flavin made in honor of Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin. The stepped arrangement of white fluorescent tubes evokes Tatlin’s Colossal Monument to the Third International (1920), shown below. Tatlin’s ambitious but unrealized project to unite art and technology was of particular interest to Flavin, who also worked with art and the technology of his time.

Vladimir Tatlin. Cover of Pamiatnik III Internatsionala by Nikolai Punin. 1920

Vladimir Tatlin. Cover of Pamiatnik III Internatsionala. by Nikolai Punin. 1920. Cover with letterpress illustration on front; one letterpress illustration, page: 11 x 8 5/8″ (28 x 21.9 cm). Publisher: Izo NKP, Petersburg. Edition: unknown. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

Flavin did not consider his works to be sculptures, because they consist not only of the physical object (the fluorescent tube) but also of the space illuminated by the light. When the light emitted touches people or objects or a reflecting plane, such as a wall, floor, or ceiling, it illuminates and colors these as well. Flavin’s work unites color with light and space, bringing color into three dimensions and transforming the surrounding space.

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

How Many Museums Does it Take To Change…?
The colors and lengths of the fluorescent tubes Flavin used for this piece were determined by what was commercially available at the time. Fluorescent lights, like all lights, have a finite lifespan. When a museum acquires a work by Flavin, it receives an artist’s certificate indicating specifications for replacement tubes, which it purchases when necessary, to extend the life of the work.