Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Different Light

July 29, 2007


LA has long had a love affair with minimalism in various forms and contemporary art in general and so it’s no surprise that Dan Flavin: A Retrospective is currently on view not at the Museum for Contemporary Art downtown but in the Mid-Wilshire district at the theoretically more august LACMA. In fact I can think of a number of excellent contemporary shows that have come out of LACMA over the last decade including retrospectives of work from Lari Pittman, Tim Hawkinson, and David Hockney to name just three. Not only is this good for LACMA, but it helps keep the pressure up on other institutions like MOCA and the Getty to keep up with the quality and thoughtfulness of their own programming.

The Flavin exhibit is quite large and covers a wide swath of his career from familiar single element installations to reconstructions of larger site-specific works from elsewhere. The galleries here have probably never looked emptier and that is a very good thing. The curators, who include LACMA’s recently appointed director Michael Govan have wisely chosen to give these works the space they need with most being exhibited in rooms alone with no competition whatsoever. A brilliant move because fifty percent of seeing the works is looking away from them. Flavin’s installations are equally about the light and color projected from them as they are about the actual architectural elements of the pieces themselves. Rooms fill with light and glow in magenta, green, and endless shades of white with subtle changes in variations as one moves from source to the margins of the enclosing space. In some ways, at times, it’s like being inside a Rothko.

Plus, when is the last time you had a work of art physically alter you if only temporarily? (Of course I would argue that this is always the case with every work of art but that is an argument for another time.) The exhibit concludes with one of Flavin’s “barrier” works, untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) from 1973 (pictured above). A massive wall of green light that divides the final gallery in half leaving much of the room inaccessible. But as one stands in the room it slowly becomes apparent that the color is fading away, the light turning clear white in quality. This change becomes most startling when one realizes that the foyer and sky, visible through the exit archway have turned a brilliant bright pink. Leaving the exhibit, the magenta tinted world remains if only briefly until the familiar returns and the bright green glow of the gallery behind calls out.

It’s a great show. Beautiful, thoughtful, and ultimately very engaging. You should go see it before it closes August 12th.

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