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Untitled (To Henri Matisse) by Dan Flavin

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Untitled (To Henri Matisse) by Dan Flavin.

About the Work

Title: Untitled (to Henri Matisse)
Artist : Dan Flavin
Year : 1964
Medium : Pink, yellow, blue and green fluorescent light
Dimensions : 8 ft. (244 cm) high
Location : Guggenheim Museum

Dan Flavin_Untitled (to Henri Matisse), 1965_Artwork in Focus_Divvya Nirula
Untitled (To Henri Matisse), 1965 by Dan Flavin
image courtesy : Guggenheim

Untitled (to Henri Matisse)

Dan Flavin’s delectable work is dedicated to the great 20th-century French artist Henri Matisse. The artist who was famous for his superior skill as a colourist. The installation itself is composition of a single fixture with four vertically set fluorescent lamps, mounted against the wall. As it is clear by the spectrum, the colours pink, yellow, blue, and green are representative of the four principle colours of commercial fluorescent light. A medium that was unbending and uncompromising in many ways and yet they were what Flavin worked with, throughout his career. Flavin openly accepted the rare and challenging medium and was able to successfully create several renditions. The particular arrangement of the sequence, a simple modular repetition, shows a neutral approach to composition commonly associated with Minimalism.

Noticeably, the use of the fluorescent light, which was otherwise un-versatile, allowed Flavin to mix colours. It lent to his work the intensely optical impetus, and shown together, pink, yellow, blue, and green produce, surprisingly, a whitish glow.

“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

Flavin was clear in steering clear from any religious or spiritual positioning in his work, though the interaction of spaces with art work remained dear to his heart. He enjoyed the celebration of the simple presence of the beautiful.

Other Details

Flavin has made several dedications to family members and friends regarding his untitled works and sometimes included colleagues and historical figures etc. Several and often, these dedications are assigned to artists, indicative of the fact, that the artist wanted to see himself within the lineage of historical precursors.

With regards to Untitled (to Henri Matisse), it is evident that Flavin felt a somewhat uncertain kinship with the artist. This was an aspect that was brought to light by some early critics of his work. However, as he had stated before on several occasions, his work was not representational, nor posturing or leaning towards any agenda – other than it being pure art.

Previous to the fluorescent tubes, Flavin worked with light bulbs, and when they fused, they were replaced as a part of the art work.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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