I Saw the Light

By Lisa Hunter on September 05, 2013


Dan Flavin Art Institute, Bridgehampton, NY. Photo: Florian Holzherr 

I’ll admit it: I once mistook a Dan Flavin sculpture for a broken light fixture. He’s one of those artists for whom context is everything. Stand next to one of his fluorescent-light sculptures in a gallery full of paintings, and sooner or later, some wag will joke about having seen it at The Home Depot.

But in the right setting, Flavin’s art is a revelation. It’s sumptuous and exciting.

The setting doesn’t get any better than the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, New York. The unassuming shingle-style building was formerly a firehouse and a church. Art lovers expecting a modernist glass box probably drive past it two or three times before they realize it’s their destination. But the contrast between inside and out is part of the delight. Step through the door, and you’re in an entirely different world, an intellectual fun house.

Flavin designed the interior himself and, unsurprisingly, it’s the best installation of his work I’ve ever seen. Sometimes other museums’ ambient light can make Flavin’s work look like nothing more than a couple of fluorescent tubes. But here, the walls glow with intense, luscious colours. Suddenly it’s not about the lightbulbs—it’s about the light.


Installation view, The Dan Flavin Art Institute, Bridgehampton, NY. Photo: Florian Holzherr. Collection Dia Art Foundation 

In this setting, you can’t miss the fact that Flavin is a talented colourist. Saturated colour splashes the white walls, then blends to other shades where the works of art meet.

It’s a mini-art school education. Artists always think about colour. When they see, say, a Matisse portrait, they notice right away that Madame Matisse has a green stripe down her face. We non-artists, on the other hand, can sometimes get distracted by the subject matter. We need to learn how to see. At the Flavin Art Institute, with everything else stripped away, you get to see colour the way an artist does. It’s an intellectual thrill.

The museum falls under the auspices of the Dia Art Foundation, which has a history of supporting thinky single-artist venues, such as Walter de Maria’s The New York Earth Room and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, as well as the darling of intellectuals, Dia:Beacon. But the Flavin Art Institute is one of those rare places that can delight both an art novice and the most jaded art afficionado. Flavin makes theory fun to look at.

The Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, New York is open year round

By Lisa Hunter| September 05, 2013
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter is a screenwriter and arts journalist in Montreal. Her book, The Intrepid Art Collector, was published by Three Rivers/Random House Canada.

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