Dan Flavin at Ikon Gallery

It is what it is and it ain't nothing else

The works of Dan Flavin most recently received large audiences at the Hayward's The Light Show on the Southbank a few years ago. The Modernist concrete building was the obvious setting for Flavin's strip lights and they illuminated the spaces there wonderfully. Birmingham's Ikon Gallery is a different setting altogether; a converted Victorian school building, the vaulted ceilings and non-industrial design allow the glow of these pieces to light up all manner of different surfaces. 

The title is a quote from the artist, purposefully and consistently distancing himself from the 'art speak' and complexity of numerous art theories, structures and beliefs. Though he may not have liked it, he does fit into a number of movements and the minimalism of his constructions cannot be undervalued any more than the merging colours of their illuminations can be considered anything short of beautiful. 

This is not a wide ranging retrospective and the curation of pieces have largely been selected from a few ongoing groups. Untitled (In Honour of Harold Joachim) 3, 1977 is present and correct - arguably his most recognised work, it stands at a 45º angle in the corner, three blue and green lights bouncing and merging their colours on the walls, while three each of pink and yellow strip lights face forward, contrasting the colours behind them. It's simplicity and success never fail to leave me in awe.

The Monuments series is more simple still and it's effects are more measured and less emotional; in fact it is the titling of these pieces to his friends and peers that add pathos to what cynics could argue as just fluorescents on a wall. Four of them reside in the final space. 

Prior to that, a larger installation nominated to Barnett Newman pits four corner elements facing one another in the extremities of Gallery 5. The subtle variations of light here are more like the tonal shifts of James Turrell's work, effecting the walls both immediately by the lighting strips and the contrasting warmth and cold in neighbouring galleries by extension. 

Untitled (to Don Judd, colourist), 1-5 (1987) take up the third room omitting an over all pink glow to the opposing wall and structurally they are most familiar and appropriate to the artist they reference. Perhaps the oddest work here is bequeathed to one of Pop's shining lights and his wife; Untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room) from 1968. It is a piece not as regularly displayed and adding a further dimension to Flavin's output by introducing the theme of a barrier. Bars of strip lights block a wall and facing inward, illuminate a space no one is able to get into, that is in fact sealed by the very elements revealing it. A conundrum less obvious than many of his outwardly facing lights; the idea of a cage or prison and reflection more prominent than refraction or enlightenment. 

But maybe that is all too much conjecture and projection, after all, It is what it is and it ain't nothing else.

https://ikon-gallery.org/event/it-is-what-it-is-and-it-aint-nothing-else/ until June 26th