Nick Hackworth

Dan Flavin: Works from the Sixties, Haunch of Venison

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

There are few artists as vulnerable to the traditional tabloid critical jibe, “I could do that”, than Dan Flavin, the legendary American minimalist who died in 1996.

From 1963 on, his work consisted exclusively of configurations of the mass-made neon lights to be found in offices, factories and electrical stores. But the fact that Flavin constructed from such ordinary materials work that commands almost holy reverence is testament to the acuteness of his artistic instincts.

The six seminal works on show at Haunch of Venison, all made in the Sixties, include one of his first pure-neon pieces, the diagonal of 25 May 1963, a single red, eight-foot striplight mounted at 45 degrees on the wall, and one of the first of his series of works dedicated to the early Russian modernist Vladimir Tatlin.

Prior to his neon-epiphany, Flavin, who had been raised a devout Catholic, had made kitsch paintings and assemblages that were parodies of religious icons, gently mocking the transitory impurity of the age of consumerism. They were self-consciously pathetic objects that Flavin felt were an honest reaction to the world around him.

Then, perversely, he created contemporary works that approximate to ancient icons in their purity and aura by deciding to exhibit only neon lights. His input was solely in the selection of tubes — 10 colours and five shapes — and configuration.

His works are often, understandably, seen as a tribute to the present age, given the newness and connotations of neon light. But Flavin was timeless in his ambition to generate epiphanies through the weird, inhuman and abstract purity of light itself.

Here, in the gallery which houses three white neon pieces, and the room filled with the beautiful combination of red, green and yellow light from a single work installed in a corner, his art continues to work with a power that belies its simplicity.

Until 16 March. Information: 020 7495 5050.