Monument to V. Tatlin

Dan Flavin, American, 1933 - 1996

Made in United States, North and Central America


Fluorescent lights

12 feet 3 inches × 27 3/4 inches × 5 inches (373.4 × 70.5 × 12.7 cm)

© Estate of Dan Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

* Gallery 176, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Alter Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1979

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Removed from its typical context and function, the standard fluorescent light tube became a rich resource in Dan Flavin's work. This piece, one of his "Monuments to Tatlin" created between 1964 and 1982, is named for the Russian Constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953). Tatlin's own (never-realized) Monument to the Third International (1919) was to be a spiraling structure of rotating glass rooms suspended in an open iron framework, designed in celebration of the Russian revolution and the modern technological age. In Monument to V. Tatlin, Flavin, who described his sculptures as "anti-monuments," expresses his ambivalence toward Tatlin's utopian ideals while creating his own equally radical work of pure abstraction.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    For Dan Flavin, the standard fluorescent light tube, removed from its typical position and function, became a rich resource for making sculpture beginning in 1963. Since the creation of his first fluorescent work, dedicated to the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Flavin continued to name his sculptures in honor of his artistic heroes and friends, such as Barnett Newman, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Sol LeWitt, thereby imbuing his aesthetic project with poetic as well as historical resonance. Named for a revolutionary-era Russian Constructivist artist, Vladimir Tatlin, the "Monuments to Tatlin" became Flavin's largest series, lasting from 1964 to 1982 and encompassing not only sculpture but also paintings, drawings, and prints. The artist said that the publication in 1962 of Camilla Gray's important book on the Russian avant-garde, The Great Experiment: Russian Art, 1863–1922, ignited his interest in Tatlin's Model for a Monument to the Third International, a work of 1920 that is known only from photographs. Tatlin's dynamic, spiraling steel monument incorporated lighting and radio towers. It was designed in celebration of the Russian revolution and conceived in anticipation of the modern technological age.

    Flavin, who described his sculptures as "anti-monuments," adopted materials that reflect his ambivalent view of the utopian ideals of Tatlin's earlier work. For this 1966 version, he used seven cool white lights of four different standard sizes. Attached to the wall and arranged vertically into a heraldic relief sculpture, they are organized in a symmetrical composition according to mathematical proportions based on their sizes. Labels for Mercury lighting products still grace the left-hand side of every tube, emphasizing the store-bought, Readymade nature of Flavin s materials. Displayed in the gallery, the light they generate is familiarly harsh and tangibly concrete but ultimately ethereal. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 113.

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