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From Dan Flavin to Michelangelo Antonioni

A surprising homage to Michelangelo Antonioni from famed American minimalist sculptor Dan Flavin.

At New York's Morgan Library & Museum is a terrific exhibit on Dan Flavin's drawings, running through July 1, 2012. Drawings are not something I associated with Flavin, and certainly not the three-part assortment the Morgan is exhibiting: art from Flavin's personal collection; the artist's own paintings and independent drawings; and the centerpieces of the exhibit, which are both sketches for sculptural ideas Flavin wanted to produce as well as records of pieces he ended up producing (the exhibit also includes two finished examples of his fluorescent light sculptures).

The reason why I mention this exhibit on the Notebook is that I discovered that Flavin conceptualized a piece after seeing Michelangelo Antonioni's La notte (1961), dedicating it to the filmmaker:

Dan Flavin's untitled (to M. Antonioni for La Notte), 1962

The text on the drawing reads:

THIS CONSTRUCTION EXPOSES ANYTHING IN ITSELF (YOU MAY PASS THROUGH IT) TO M. ANTONIONI FOR LA NOTTE

The Morgan's note accompanying the piece at the exhibit is as follows:

"Flavin was inspired to make this drawing after seeing Michelangelo Antonioni's film La Notte (1961). 'I want to express myself in such a way as he did,' Flavin wrote in his journal. 'I am going to make a freestanding piece which appears like a lighted stele but which has the double doors expoising its real simplicity and dividing its pompous position.... This structure should be extremely eloquent at making no point at all.' The viewer would have been invited to step into the empty interior and pass through the doors. The effect would have been similar to that of Antonioni's film, as interpreted by Flavin: 'all of it comes off as a low key adventure not really important at all.' The work was never realized."

The discovery of Flavin's inspiration from, and commentary on, this Antonioni film seemed to me fortuitous with our publication a number of weeks ago of Luc Moullet's surprising impressions of Antonioni's black and white films. Both are refreshingly ambivalent yet nevertheless inspired and wry takes on what is usually considered the impermeable armor of cinema's historical canon.


Credits:

Dan Flavin (1933-1996)
untitled (to M. Antonioni for La Notte), 1962
Graphite pencil on tan paper
13 7/8  x 11 inches
Collection of Stephen Flavin
© 2012 Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011

Thanks to Andréa Picard for pointing me towards this exhibit. Special thanks to Alanna Schindewolf and Marilyn Palmeri of the Morgan Library & Museum for generously tracking down and providing a high resolution image of Flavin's drawing for this piece.

Thanks for pointing this out, Danny, it’s yet another reminder of how Antonioni’s influence transcended disciplines. The book of Ted Berrigan’s letters that was published last year has a sublime account of his experience seeing L’avventura on a double-bill with Breathless (!!). I’d say Flavin went on to succeed at that whole “be[ing] extremely eloquent at making no point at all” thing.
Thanks Otie! I don’t know the Berrigan letters at all but will check them out!

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