TIFFANY BELL, INTERVIEW WITH DAN FLAVIN

The interview was conducted in Dan Flavin’s house on the south shore of Long Island in Wainscott, New York on July 13, 1982. It was intended for publication but was never printed previously because Flavin wanted to edit his comments to make them easier to read and never got around to it. With some editing I’ve tried to make the text readable while maintain­ing Flavin’s particular conversational style and humor – occasionally at the expense of com­plete clarity. [Tiffany Bell]

The following interview was published in volume five of the Chinati newsletter in 2000.

TB: I am curious to know if you would modify or clarify your statement of 1966 in which you suggest that there is no development in your sys­tem. This interests me because I think a statement such as this may have been misinterpreted causing concep­tions of “closed” “limited” art, etc.

DF: Well, let’s see. I still think it’s gov­ernable. I don’t think the open and closed process that was described way back when is challenged now. In fact, I really was going to formal­ize it and intended to make a rodo- file to assist memory. I like the fact that the file is circular, without an end. In fact, before the director in Chicago in ’67, Van der Marck, came up with this printout of a cata­logue, I wanted the catalogue to be a round file to which things could be added or taken away.1 Well, no, that’s wrong because nothing would be taken away. That was the point, whatever there was of input was to be left. I think that computer usage was, what can I say, pale, bland, unimportant.

TB: What I was trying to ask is, do you think you use the medium differ­ently than the way you used to?

DF: I used to think somewhat about that which could be proposed with no specific end in sight and now I more and more depend upon a spe­cific end. I just have other involve­ments than thinking art now. In the early sixties there was hardly any­thing else on my mind except the usual domestic things. But as to us­ing the medium differently, no, I don’t think so.

There might be a slight shift in em­phasis to things, to more retinal op­tics but it seems to me that’s part of this open and at the same time closed thinking. You shift inside of the process you already know a lot about. But if I keep the fluorescent light media mindedness then that’s what’s really going on. I’d have to forget it to lose that. It’s such a re­strictive medium, as I’ve said before, that I’ve developed an appreciation that way for it. But then again, I may simply be lazy and conservative overall.

Also, I’ve talked about myself as be­ing primitive, but sophistication comes inside what I’ve said. You get more involved with one understand­ing, let’s say, and less with another, both of which you’ve had contact with in the past. And, so?

TB: What sort of shifts?

DF: Well, just as I said, earlier on there was a decided interest in light rather dramatically, structurally pro­posed. Then in the late sixties, I think, exemplified by say the green room at Kornblee [1967], an optical shift and a retinal reaction made all available daylight pink as you ac­cepted the green. The installationai exposition at Dwan in ’68, in com­parison, was rather factual in terms of light and by that I mean, the color didn’t really perform, let’s say, in an abusive way to the eye. So anyhow, the green show — the additive diag­onals of all green — is a good exam­ple of the shift.

DAN FLAVIN, FIRST DIAGRAM FOR KORNBLEE GALLERY INSTALLATION, AUGUST 21, 1967.

Chairman Judd wrote about that one. It’s in the Ottawa catalogue.2 But remember my first impression of the writing and I think it’s a justifi­able one: it really has much more to do with Don and his thinking about himself than it really does with me. I should reread it again to see if I still hold the same opinion. That’s my memory.

TB: I have often heard you call your work “primitive.” For example, with regard to the installation at the Guggenheim, you suggested your lights looked primitive in juxtaposi­tion to Wright’s architecture. Can you explain what you mean? Would

DF: Yeah.

TB: Are you disappointed that there haven’t been many younger artists pursuing your interest in making art with light?

DF: That were recognizable. To a certain extent, it’s not up to me. And perhaps also, if they were interest­ing enough, I might not know. I could conceive of it that way. I thought that there’d be a lot more in­terest in light – and I don’t mean Walt Disney motion pictures – but no one knows the duration of the long term. It always seems somehow that the best is yet to come, whatever the hell that is.

TB: Have there been artists working with light that have interested you? DF: No. I can’t remember really as I you say the same about a more re­cent piece, the corridors in the Hauserman showroom in L.A.?

DF: I’m so flip. To come around to the point, I would say my conclusion was in that artist’s education article.3 Artists should surround themselves with the university situa­tion for the economics of it and the educational resources, part of that being a computer sophistication. I think that’s what I had in mind. And so, I guess I saw at first a scientific art that could happen in this context with a technological extension. And the science artist, I would consider a sophisticated person unlike myself. I operate on a rather low empirical level and I don’t have much gumption to alter it.

TB: Because you don’t investigate the technological aspects of it, you just operate from what you see?

DF: Yeah.

TB: Are you disappointed that there haven’t been many younger artists pursuing your interest in making art with light?

DF: That were recognizable. To a certain extent, it’s not up to me. And perhaps also, if they were interest­ing enough, I might not know. I could conceive of it that way. I thought that there’d be a lot more in­terest in light – and I don’t mean Walt Disney motion pictures – but no one knows the duration of the long term. It always seems somehow that the best is yet to come, whatever the hell that is.

TB: Have there been artists working with light that have interested you?

DF: No. I can’t remember really as I just skirted it. I saw lasers very many years ago in Germany and my reac­tion to them was that their develop­ing uses were more interesting than some kind of visual art reduction. I think that I’m one of those people who, for better or for worse, really believes in some of the simplest ma­terials being the best to think through. It’s probably an old view and it may go. But then again, fluo­rescent light is pretty sophisticated and generally disseminated, but still I think largely holds the other claim. One sees the ups and downs of con­temporary painting, where old anxi­eties come through the brush again. You say to yourself, well, who gives a damn. It seems like going up the hill backwards to fall down again and recapitulate. It’s really silly busi­ness to me. It just doesn’t seem to me to have much interest in terms of contemporary art. I think that’s why you can have – even these days – late nineteenth century French aca­demic revivals. It’s just trivial inven­tion. Gerome isn’t going to get any better and neither is Meissonier.

TB: The next question is about your working procedure.

DF: Work? Work? What’s that? Haven’t you ever read that one? I hate work.

TB: Can you predict the appearance of your work just by thinking through the drawings that you do? How much do you depend on your assis­tant and do you ever change or de­stroy pieces after seeing them?

DF: I’m not going to answer it all. You should really break that down. It’s just that it’s better to ask things singly because I digress very easily. Let’s see where were we? Before I change my mind.

TB: Can you predict the appearance of your work?

DF: The older I get, I swear, the more graphically lazy I become, which is maybe slightly sad. You don’t com­pile a record of possibilities of changes, as I said, fulfilling that open and closed system, because your memory isn’t as capable and my las­situde is, in a sense, destructive. Also, I’m just impatient. That’s the other thing which is strange to me. I just don’t hardly like to draw at all any­more. I just don’t take the time. I defi­nitely operate from my quote history unquote – my residue. But whatever thinking there is, is not recorded accurately enough anymore.

I find myself not even dating the pa­per when I do put something down and I used to be fairly scrupulous about that for myself and for under­standing of others. I kept my papers reasonably well, all things consid­ered. I remember going, to give two examples, to Larry Poons’ apartment and seeing the graph paper sheets under foot and under furniture. I re­member getting Dick Bellamy to show them. Some of the best sheets were soiled but it didn’t matter be­cause it’s the graphic information that was interesting and not the brown dirt. I think I’m the one who got him to importantly show those graphic records. I thought that they were of themselves some of the most interesting things that came along in the sixties. In fact, I found them in some ways more interesting than the paintings. But, I don’t want to be too unfair because the artist’s thinking sequence really ought to be honored if you are interested or dishonored if you are not.

Judd really treated his paper in a bit better fashion than Larry did but he was relatively careless about them. I think I am accurate in saying that he was amused by my interest in this Byzantine projection. I really thought they were very good the first time I saw them, and Larry’s too, which is sometimes a surprise when some­thing is new to you.

TB: When did you first see Judd’s work?

DF: I think ’62. As I have said before, John Anderson, Don and I sort of very quickly put to rest a coopera­tive gallery in Brooklyn Heights. I was more interested in Don. I liked John a lot personally and I liked the physical ambition of his work.

I had a lot of difficulty, relatively speaking, to the blunt nature of what Don seemed to be up to. It was diffi­cult. I tried to write a letter in de­fense of him after O’Dougherty’s at­tack. It started off with “Oh no, Green Gallery, not this time…” but I didn’t think it was wholehearted enough, let’s say. And, I didn’t think that what I was writing would be honored well enough because of who wrote it. I don’t think it was ev­er sent.

It’s been a long time now. I’m telling you, you get over 40 and memory is really strained all of a sudden. When I was in my 30s I could re­member practically anything that I cared to. If I opened the record book and started reading it page af­ter page after page, I’d be surprised by what I was. I hope not too much but maybe. A contemporary record really is important.

And so?

TB: Continuing with the other parts of the question, how much do you de­pend on your assistant and do you occasionally change or destroy a work?

DF: Sometimes you’ll find there is a technical adjustment to be made in an installation but it really doesn’t go far. I like to approach an installa­tion in a dictatorial way, I swear. I think that’s fulfilling my position. It’s unfair to contribute doubts to an in­stallation. It just doesn’t work.

I’ve been pressed in situations – in St. Louis, for instance, where we found structural instability in the length of a barrier.4 It needed a change. Now, the crew on the floor, as intelligent as they were, were not the people to be called upon to do this. The design was my part. It took me twelve minutes and I had their change for them. And that’s the way it should be. It was a rather grand piece of work that had to be execut­ed. So, it’s a command decision. I really take it upon myself – whatever is told to me – and work it out by my­self. There ist no other vay.5

TB: I wonder if you would consider your work decorative?

DF: Well, that’s like Pandora’s box. Obviously, of course. But it’s not something that I really care a whole lot to dwell on. In the past, you can read, I was against spiritual and psychological outlooks on art. And I guess I skirted symbolic usages from time to time. There’s no need for it but I think I did it earlier on, with the icons, for instance, after the fact. The facts of these constructions were more important than any language that was attached to them. But you know I was young and isolated and somewhat romantic too. You do this. I’m not saying there wasn’t symbolic reference there. That’s what I am saying, there is. But sometimes the literature got to be a burden.

Given my age and everything – my privacy, my seclusion – this sort of thing can happen. It’s like telling a story back to yourself. You have to do the thing – to make it shaped the way it is, make the light work and the color work the way it does be­tween elements. But then again, you sort of sit around wavering and in­vent pieties, I swear. I swear it’s all because I was on my own, pretty much.

But dedications I really liked. I think that’s an honorable sentimental pro­fession. And sometimes you can tease with them and sometimes you can play them straight: to Piet Mon­drian, who lacked green – that teas­es the flower pot on the mule post.

TB: Are you concerned about the context of having your work in the Hauserman showroom in the Pacific Design Center?6

DF: For years I put forth the notion that I, as an artist of fluorescent light, didn’t require a museum con­text to grant validity or anything else. Whatever I did should be rec­ognizable as, let’s say, something no matter where. I maintain this to this day.

What’s at Hauserman’s been com­promised by the circumstances, not by the fact that it’s a showroom but by the material that surrounds it. I re­fer to the paneling itself perhaps and to the mirror. It doesn’t support the light as well as it could. But, it didn’t seem, in the collective think­ing, important. I think overall and given the diverse interests involved we did well, collectively.

TB: You have said that you do not like the term “environment” applied to your installations because of the im­plication of setting up a “living condition” and “comfortable resi­dence.” Yet you do want the viewer to have the chance to participate. I wonder on what terms you wish for the viewer’s participation.

DF: Respectable. It doesn’t work for someone who smashes tubes – for the P.L.O.

The corridors require rather mobile participation but this has been true since the first use. The end of the Art- forum so-called auto-biographical sketch concludes with an architec­tural reference.7 So, it’s not contem­plative and it’s not swift, but it’s us­able. Early on, I used the term “situational” which was the most reasonable outlook. I’ve always tried to keep, as you know, furniture out because I don’t think it takes a long time to get involved or to under­stand what’s installed.

TB: So you do not intend your work to be difficult?

DF: No, I’ve always thought it was rather simple – not simpleminded, but simple. As I remember my con­tacts with Meyer Schapiro, one of the more respectable things about his understandings in art history were that he could present things in an understandable and simple fash­ion. It seemed to me that simplicity came from comprehensive under­standing. And das ist gut.

TB: Now for the public sculpture questions.

DF: No sculpture, public plan. I’m never confused about that.

TB: In 1967, you made the statement “I would not resist public service” meaning that you were willing to place your work in public spaces. After your many experiences now, both those that have materialized and others that have not, would you now be more likely to resist it?

DF: One would resist for reasons of compromise. There’s just much too much of that but not circumstantially, situationally, not at all.

TB: What do you mean by compro­mise?

DF: The bad politics, I guess. It should be ethical – public art. It’s sad.

TB: Do you think there has been an improved attitude?

DF: I don’t know. I think the more private the public situation is the more likely an artist is to succeed. The more public the interest, the less likely. The more people partici­pate, the more inhibiting and de­structive compromise follows. If you come to the situation with a consoli­dated economic support and no public questions asked you’re better off.

DAN FLAVIN AND DONALD JUDD AT JUDD’S RANCH SOUTH OF MARFA, TEXAS, MARCH 1981.

Everybody has an opinion about art and most of it is ignorance.

The other aspect that really bothers me very much is how little art is al­lowed to integrate with architecture. Architects simply are not interested or they see themselves as Graves does: as a substitute artist. The sepa­ration is bewildering to me. Archi­tects will say back that artists won’t integrate their thinking. And, I think maybe often they’re correct in their understanding. But, the generosity is so rarely there – the invitation. In my experience, the engineers involved were ingenuous, or more open. If you get around the architect and politicians, you’re best off.

TB: Are you pleased with some of the results of your public projects?

DF: There’s so little around.

TB: Like Grand Central Station, for example.

DF: I don’t know. I look at that as compromise and I contributed per­haps too much to the compromise there. It’s almost like replacement in­stallation for what was there and I think it shouldn’t have been con­ceived that way. But, it seemed at the time that realization of some­thing was important to show that it could happen in such a situation and that it could be relatively eco­nomical as a job. So perhaps I should have pushed a little harder but I’m not displeased.

The most satisfactory installation and now it’s being slowly destroyed – was the entrance to the Hudson River Museum. I really liked that a lot. I think it functions well for them. I liked the Kunstmuseum Basel courtyard.

TB: Is there a difference between do­ing a public art work in Europe as opposed to in this country?

DF: Same.

TB: It’s the same?

DF: Yeah, bad news. The tunnels under the Maas in Rotterdam started in ’69 or something like that, and then finally was politically defeated in longevity. It’s sad. Everything I did there pleased me. I liked the system, I liked the invention of the replace­ment fixture. It was such a pleasure really to do it. To have it disappear or never permitted is sad.

I was a foreigner for one thing and the political incapacity of changing politicians – you know, no continu­ity, no interest. If I had been Dutch I suppose it would have had a better chance. They would rather have spent the money on a Hollander, which is in a sense fair. If that out­look had been made clear to me, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. That’s a project I think I really liked the most in a way because of the ex­tension of the corridor.

TB: Why did the project for the Olympics not happen? Is that the same kind of story?

DF: Well, Heiner always tells me that my sense of things is incorrect.8 But then again, I don’t know how to correct it. I felt that the interest was never there. When the nationalistic interests finally obtained, the Ameri­cans were easily forgotten.

TB: According to a reporter in The New Yorker, Serra has said, “It is not the business of art to deal with human needs” implying a belief that the artist is responsible primarily to his own work, not to the public. Would you agree?

DF: No. For instance, to follow his case, you don’t propose and estab­lish collapsible art. I mean there are certain levels of responsibility that don’t have anything to do with your sense of art. Once you’re out in pub­lic there are going to be inhibitions – security, safety and so forth. They’re obvious ones. But there are others also. You can’t distract traffic, for instance. There are a lot of as­pects like this that don’t meet the eye right away. There are good and use­ful codes to be observed. They’re of­ten traditionally developed because they are useful and they have pur­pose.

I still get a feeling, if you want to use Richard as an example, that he rep­resents the ego dumping sculptor. In his case, it’s a little less annoying than usual because some of the things he does I find myself interest­ed in.

TB: Do you find Oldenburg more suc­cessful in his public sculpture?

DF: The photograph I saw lately looks pretty good in an old-fash- ioned impending sense.9 You know technically that it’s not going to drop on somebody’s skull but it has a threatening look. In that old-fash­ioned sense, a sculpture is sort of in­teresting. I think that art that doesn’t separate itself and is integrated or even can be taken for granted to a certain extent is the most interesting now to me. This governs my own outlook. You don’t need museum la­bels or plaques. If people perceive that they have an enhanced circum­stance, as opposed to what they had before, that’s alright with me.

For myself, I hold an interest in art – in the understanding. But I approach a situation with less trepidation than I did to begin with. The fact that what I think to put forth as art might not be so readily understand­able, but in a separate fashion, might be absorbed contextually – I don’t look upon that with regret. If as artists we are to integrate what we think to do in our contemporary world then this is to be expected. We must proceed this way. I don’t want to make a cathedral. I really don’t. I think that’s the object of busi­ness now and commerce. Zo… next case.

TB: What sort of conditions do you look for when presented with a choice of sites for public work?

DF: If I am coming with my principal tools of fluorescent light, then the contexts have to need it. They have to be able to fit it and that’s not al­ways possible. There are circum­stances you’re invited to inspect that are not receptive on almost any ba­sis. I’ve seen circumstances that absolutely didn’t need it, and then you must walk away. I know people don’t like that message when they think they’re being so generous with a circumstance that they like so much, but you have to keep your own understanding of your possibili­ties and limitations.

There are so many different ways of examination of the usefulness of a site. And what’s up is down and what’s black is white, and what’s next?

TB: I wonder why you stopped writ­ing?

DF: I guess I felt I wasn’t coming across adequately. Another thing that disappointed me greatly is that I felt I was starting almost to write art criticism which I find dreadful and useless. It sort of smacked of that outlook. Definitely I didn’t want to be an art critic.

Also simply, I was tired because writing unedited is really hard work. Since I wouldn’t submit to editing it was a little harder. It could have, in retrospect, used some editing partic­ularly in terms of grammar. Particu­larly if one is going to be relatively nasty, one should be grammatical, I think. There’s a responsibility there all the way around.

TB: Do you think of your writing as nasty?

DF: Oh, yeah. It was hostile with a purpose. One time someone asked me how I could come on that way. I said I did it with vicarious pleasure. But that was to be glib. No, I felt there was a certain responsibility in writing. I really wanted to address things that were important to artists with their lack of a responsible fo­rum. Critics were allowed to print, artists weren’t and I somehow got a role.

I suppose that someone would say my result was largely self-serving but then again that’s where it all starts. The interest in what I wrote was suffi­cient enough to show me that my re­sponses were shared by a lot of the disadvantaged – we the people of art.

The last thing I was going to write, which never came off, was the artist and his economics. I never did write

that, which I felt would have been an important thing. Maybe I wasn’t up to it. That’s why it didn’t turn out. It may just have been a lack of will­ingness to keep going. I’ve never thought of myself as a professional writer because I didn’t have a suffi­cient response to language. I always regarded myself as a kind of playful, lyrical amateur but with something that had to be pointed out.

I had a kind of ultimate confronta­tion with Phil Leider as to whether my name should go on the masthead of Artforum. I would have it only as a writer on art and he drew the line so that I would have to accept the role of a critic and I wouldn’t. That was the end of that and that’s why the next article came out in Studio International.,0 Barbara Reise want­ed it. There are things in there that I really didn’t like at all. And that seemed to me to be the end of it. Ex­cept to write an occasional some­thing.

TB: You mean in your article there were things you didn’t like?

DF: Yeah, I can tell you what I don’t like about it: the Castelli warehouse review – review in quotes. I really didn’t like that at all. Also, I stepped into matters I didn’t really have much authority on – historical mat­ters. In fact, in the period since 1969, I’ve turned down invitations to write on historical matters be­cause I didn’t feel that I had enough information. Boy, then you see what gets written and you wonder that you could have been part of the group that should have refused.

I wrote a sort of snappish little de­fense of Judd and his retrospecting which I sort of liked. But no, I haven’t done much. There are some little things on drawing that 1 liked – like a need in elaboration. But, again, it’s a personal response.

TB: Has there been anything written by someone other than yourself about your work that you like?

DF: I find that difficult to respond to. But I’ll never let it stop there. I haven’t read so many things that I probably should have and so I find it hard to say anything about it. I al­ways expect hard writing of Don when he chooses to put out. But I don’t know where else to look for it. Emily Pulitzer has nice comments – sufficient comments – in that St. Louis catalogue.

One time Laszlo Glozer wrote a lengthy article for Suddeutsche Zeitung which I haven’t read. I tried to get it translated a few times through the German contingent

there. There may be some comments from an interview. Laszlo’s a funny character so it might be an interest­ing article. He’s serious and commits himself with emotion.

TB: Possibly the longest ongoing se­ries you have worked on is the Tatlin “monuments.” I wonder if there are aspects about these works, different in some ways from other pieces, which particularly interest you and have made you continue to make them?

DF: The ones from say ’64 or 5 or ’66 in there up to ’69, when I was getting things together for Ottawa, are, as Don said, my Gothic Art. They’re relatively conservative in a structural way. But that’s what was put in public. There are others in the early sixties sketches that are rather loose. Those loosely structured ones could have been elaborated upon but it meant exposing wire between elements and I was a little reluctant to do that. Also, I certainly needed to keep them away from gallery mar- keteering because of the obvious misunderstandings that would have occurred in the angles of the struc­tural elements for instance. So, I held back on that aspect of it.

It could have been a dual system; one aspect, this simple elaborated structure – using so many fixtures and spreading them in an equal number left to right or right to left; or the other, a lot of dangling wires, stretched wires. I would have looked awfully hip if I had done that be­cause it would have proceeded the whole Castelli warehouse genera­tion with the neon this, a dangling wire here, felt there. It would have looked somewhat casual too. The “feltforum” as someone glibly put it. The Tatlin “monuments” are really quite conservative work for me, with the whites and very conservative structural approach. I must have needed it. And that’s why it came about.

The first one was used in Furness Hall at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia because of the tall wall available. It was brought back to New York, I remember, and put in the Green Gallery in a kind of memorial exhibition dedicated to David Smith.

I also had a leaning diagonal eight foot strip that came off the wall at a forty-five degree angle – the angle may have been variable – dedicated directly to him. It was nothing like what Smith did, no figurative memo­rabilia. It’s the triumph of Judd: no hi­erarchies, no welding, no prancing geometry, just the fact. So…

TB: I am curious about your interest in American nineteenth century land­scape drawings and American crafts in general. And I was wonder­ing how long it had been an inter­est?

DF: Oh God, there are so many things that go into that sort of thing. It’s the leisure time of an aging artist that makes it possible. I have really fairly strong romantic art historical sentiments and they come out in var­ious ways. I have an interest in print making of my own, to Rembrandt, to Robert Swain Gifford, who was a damn decent printer.

So, to begin with it’s a general inter­est in that old art. But aspects like the exactitude or the precision of record and the accuracy of the light in Kensett and Church, I can identify with. Though Church’s theatrics are sometimes bothersome to me. I like Kensett because he’s so underdone. He’s a sneak as an artist.

I get interested in art of the localities where I am, such as Donoho here, and also because the prices are rea­sonable. I think Mary Nimmo Moran is a wonderful etcher – just about the equal of her husband.

I wish I had a bank roll so as to have more of it around. I think a lot of people draw conclusions from what you have and never realize the fact that some people can make the great financial input and have what they want and then there are we who have more guile than money.

I always wanted to have a Gifford. I really think he’s a great man.

TB: A drawing or a painting?

DF: I’d take anything. Well, I think in Gifford’s case that the painting bet­ter represents him. Kensett is commu­nicable in oil and pencil though I’m not knocking Gifford’s drawings. I’ve seen wonderful ones. They’re scarce. The Constantinople panora­ma that the Foundation has is very nice. I love that kind of drawing and it seems to be a somewhat typical type of drawing for that period in America.

I have a wonderful Kensett – the top of the Gorge of Hudson Highland, on blue paper. Boy, it’s a beautiful drawing. Love it – that so stingy but generous little touch of his – awe­some. Not afraid of a straight line either.

I really do like little and least art. It has nothing to do with “minimal” at all. That’s at the bottom of the garbage can. That’s why I’ve liked drawing. I have an etching that I want to show you over there that I did while waiting for dinner with

Heiner’s ex-wife and his children and one of the children’s friends. The friend’s name was Henrietta Kaiser and she’s a daughter of a fairly well-known musicologist and a critic in Munich. I had one copper plate left and she was sitting there reading and she has this sweet but difficult early teenage face. I think it’s in the drawing – very quick and very elegant – perhaps one of the best prints I ever did dry point. I just picked up the copper and put the tool to it very quickly before she could become self-conscious. It’s very slight but very good – a face that’s almost not there in rather ele­gantly stroked lines. It printed fairly well.

TB: When did you move away from New York City?

DF: In desperate poverty in 1965. I was too poor to suffer the poor. The Puerto Rican neighbors had decided to come down upon our heads. So I had to get out and the strange thing is, I ran right into country suspicion and hostility.

TB: How did you pick the area of Cold Spring?11

DF: Did what I hear a lot of people do: made a compass circle around New York according to time – hour, hour and a half, two hours – and searched it. Just follow the arc. I fi­nally found a town within around an hour. In those days you could travel faster and you could make Manhat­tan in 3/4 of an hour. The speed lim­its were not so closely observed.

It seemed to me that the streets of the village addressed the river. Everything you did there had to do with either coming down to the river or up from it. I really liked that a lot.

I made a “being around water” com­ment one time for one of the maga­zines which Judd thought was pretty funny. But curiously, on one side of the family I come from sailors – from fishermen and commercial sea-far­ing people from Wexford and Cork. The Cullens were in Wexford and Flavins in Cork. My father was the first male who didn’t go to sea. The family moved from Cork to New York in 1890 and he was born in ’91. He worked on the piers with his father as he was about to go to the seminary and so I guess they thought that was an honorable thing. I guess he worked in the sum­mertimes. I remember him talking about the B & 0 piers where he was a stevedore. That’s the cut-off but it must be in the Flavin collective mem­ory because here I am by the ocean and I have the bam with riparian rights to the river – the Hudson River. Can’t get far away.

Water is awesome, straight ahead awesome. It’s not like flying, which puts you in a situation of awe – you’re transported. You just have to stand here and look at an ocean. It’s always there. Hear it? I don’t. I nev­er felt I really wanted to be on the beach but I always liked to be close to it. I’ve got pretty much the ideal circumstance. But there are other values involved here, such as de­fending the house in terms of storms. That’s why this position was chosen.

I don’t know whether it was wise, not sure at all. Zo…

TB: Do you feel isolated? Do you miss a kind of discourse with other artists?

DF: Never had it. Can’t miss ‘em on that basis. I miss an understandable society sometimes but if I was in the Cedar Bar, I was a loner. I guess I took some comfort from being around people who are also artists but I didn’t talk.

Helene said to me the other day that if I was around Don more I’d proba­bly like him less.12 I think she may likely be right. He’s a strong person and a socially resistant person too, which he’ll admit.

I think he thinks I’m funny. I’ve al­ways enjoyed the idea of being a kind of relief, to be a clown escaped from the seminary and the sea, right? I think that one time Emily wrote about the troubador as an honest breed. Then I was traveling more; you bring your statement and then you vanish with it – perfect. I believe in temporary art wholeheart­edly. Whatever you think to do should not be a future burden. It should be destructible. It shouldn’t be taking up space. It should be ash­es or whatever the reducible materi­al is and gotten rid of.

TB: How did your involvement with the Dia Art Foundation begin?

DF: By request of the Diaties them­selves. Why one is elected or not is hard to figure out.

Well, what do I think? The organiza­tional outlook is stupendous and therefore unfulfillable I would kind of guess. There’s a fantastic artistic sentiment involved here. I really ap­preciate very much what they think to say they want to do. But, I think that the support mechanism proba­bly can’t be developed even for the several artists only who are in­volved. I wish there was more real­ization of the projects where pro­posed. And therefore, I wish the projects were more reasonable so they could be so served. Across the board I wish this was the case. I wish the Foundation was better ad­ministered to fulfillment. But, it has such heroic aspects in Heiner’s mind and that’s awfully nice.

TB: When did you first meet Heiner? DF: I first met Heiner at my opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in the end of 1967. It was the first time I had ever been in­volved with Museum exposition. He was with a German woman art his­torian who had done a Berlin exhibi­tion of historic Russian Art – the First World War and so forth – and he was with his former partner, Franz Joseph Dahlem, who was about to become curator for the Stroher col­lection in Darmstadt. Heiner was taking sole control of the gallery in Munich and he wanted to meet me and to meet Don, who was there at that opening.

TB: Then you had your first show with the Heiner Friedrich Gallery the next year?

DF: ’68, I guess. It was the primary and secondary colors. He did a uni­form sort of square poster series for Carl and Sol and I don’t know who else – the Americans that came. I like mine very much. I don’t remem­ber who set the trend – whether Sol designed the first one and then I said, let’s do it somewhat alike. They’re pretty good – black and white so they didn’t cost a hell of a lot, with one photographic reproduc­tion centered and the type done around the edges. Good.

TB: I wonder if you are interested in obtaining a kind of permanence for your work through Dia?

DF: Well, you know what I think of that already. I mean one has no choice but to accept the fact of tem­porary art. Permanence just defies everything. There’s no such thing. I have no hope for that. I used to say that I did my certificates on a pulp paper because therefore I knew they would disintegrate. I would like to leave a will and testament to declare everything void at my death. And, it’s not unrealistic. I mean it, be­cause only I think to know it as it ought to be. All posthumous interpre­tations are less. I know this. So I would rather see it all disappear in­to the wind. Take it all away.

It’s electric current with a switch – dubious. Did you ever read that little poem I tried to write years ago about on and off art or off and on art? [See page 47.] I go with that. And rust and broken glass. I mean you really have no choice.

Paper work I don’t mind letting stick around. It doesn’t take up so much room and all that. And, it might offer some information and some specula­tion which is always interesting, I suppose. It’s a deduction and reduc­tion and maybe better, I don’t know. TB: Are there contemporary artists whose work you especially admire? DF: As little as possible. No, actually I thought that was an awfully arro­gant outlook of Don’s – I’m working on outlook today – but it bothered me all those years ago. But it seems to me in a sense unavoidable. You can’t lend your appreciation to too much because it’s false. It’s also dif­ficult to appreciate other art in a considerable way. So you have sen­timents about art history and people that are history and most of it you come to because, and I think Don would agree, there are aspects of the thinking and the working results that seem to coincide with your own.

I mean sometimes you can so identi­fy, say for me, with Rembrandt’s etchings and drawings that you can almost feel ‘em from eye to head to fingertips. No, I could make Rem- brandt-like lines, I understand those lines. But this is a long discussion as to how available one can be to oth­er art. I think really not so available as even one might like to be. I would say in Don’s case I’ve lent myself more than I would expect to be able to do. I think the return is good but I just don’t think you could do it with very many people.

So what else is there?

TB: That’s it.
NOTES

1  Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, exh. cat. Mu­seum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1967. With foreword by Jan van der Marck and statements collected by Dan Graham and remarks by Dan Flavin.

2  fluorescent light, etc. from Dan Flavin, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1969. Essays by Mel Bochner, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, and Brydon Smith. In English and French.

3  Dan Flavin, “…on an American Artist’s Ed­ucation…,” Artforum (New York) 6, no.7, March 1968, pp. 28-32.

4  corners, barriers and corridors in fluores­cent light from Dan Flavin, The St. Louis Art Museum, January 26 – March 11, 1973.

5  Throughout this interview Flavin humorous­ly mimicked a German accent as a friend­ly reference to Heiner Friedrich, the direc­tor of the Dia Art Foundation at the time.

6  Flavin worked with Leila and Massimo Vi- gnelli on the E.F. Hauserman Showroom in the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles. The Hauserman wall treatments were used to make three corridors lit with Flavin’s lights. See “The walls: a showroom clothed in light,” Architectural Record (New York) 170, no.6, July, 1982, pp. 120-123.

7  Dan Flavin, “…in daylight or cool white, an autobiographical sketch.” Artforum (Los Angeles) 4, no.4, December, 1965, pp. 21-24.

8  Heiner Friedrich was a major supporter of Dan Flavin’s art throughout his career, first as an art dealer in Germany and then as one of the founders, along with Philippa de Menil and Helen Winkler, of the Dia Art Foundation.

9  Spitzhacke (Pickaxe), Kassel, Germany. Photo in The New York Times accompany­ing an article on Documenta 1982, Sun­day, July 11, 1982.

10  Dan Flavin, “several more remarks…” Stu­dio International (London) 177, no.910, April, 1969, pp. 173-175.

11  Flavin first lived in Cold Spring and then purchased a renovated barn in Garrison, New York, the town next to Cold Spring. He maintained this house overlooking the Hudson River until the end of his life.

12  Helene Geary McQuade was a compan­ion and assistant to the artist at this time.


Chinati’s educational and public programming is supported with generous grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Brown Foundation, the Cowles Charitable Trust, the George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation, the Hearst Foundations, the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, the Permian Basin Area Foundation, the Warren Skaaren Trust, the Susan Vaughan Foundation, and the City of Marfa.