Dan Flavin’s career-long exploration of light, situated outside the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture, has established him as a progenitor and chief exponent of minimalism. Born in New York City in 1933, the artist enlisted in the United States Air Force and worked as a clerk, guard, and elevator operator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art before producing his first solo show of paintings and collages at the Judson Gallery, New York, in 1961. In 1963 Flavin began using commercial-grade fluorescent lights to produce sculptures that would become his signature medium. Since then, Flavin’s work has been featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The artist died in 1996, leaving behind unfinished plans for later projects. In 1998, the Lannan Foundation awarded funding to The Chinati Foundation to help bring to realization The Marfa Project, a piece conceived by the late artist. This project, inaugurated in October 2000, comprises complex fluorescent light installations in six converted military barracks in Marfa, Texas.
Though Flavin is one of the most important and influential artists of the late 20th century, the first comprehensive retrospective of his work was not produced until 2004 at Dia:Beacon, presented by the Dia Art Foundation, with funding from the Lannan Foundation, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Dan Flavin: A Retrospective is the culmination of a major scholarly research effort, which includes the publication of the catalogue raisonné of Flavin’s “complete lights.” In reference to his own work, Flavin commented “Everything is clearly, openly, plainly delivered. There is no overwhelming spirituality you are supposed to come into contact with. I like my use of light to be openly situational in the sense that there is no invitation to meditate, to contemplate. It’s in a sense a ‘get-in-get-out’ situation. And it is very easy to understand.”