T01323 'Monument' for V. Tatlin 1966-9
Fluorescent tubes, 117 1/4 x 21 5/8 (297.75 x 55) on metal backing, 120 1/4 x 23 (305.2 x 58.5)
Purchased from the artist through the John Weber Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1971
Lit: exh. catalogue Dan Flavin, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, September-October 1969, notes on nos.102, 112-15
One of a series of so-called 'pseudo-monuments' dedicated to the Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin, 1885-1953, best known for his project for a monument to the Third International 1919-20. Flavin writes (letter of 12 April 1972) that he had a special admiration for Tatlin as 'prospective, unassuming, artist-engineer away from the usual institutional confines which are supposed to identify art as especially apart from daily concerns'. Camilla Gray's book on Russian avant-garde art helped to stimulate his interest. When he spoke in public for the first time at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in December 1964, after an 'autobiographical sketch' he simply listed with brief descriptions 'three projects of the Twentieth Century whose ideas and implications, I sensed, had not been sufficiently pursued, the Hannover Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters, the Barcelona Pavilion of Mies van der Rohe and the proposed Monument to the Third International'.
He said that this series was not directly influenced by Tatlin's proiect for the tower. 'But what might be interesting to mention about them is their apparent subconscious association with art moderne or art deco styled designs long before the Twenties-Thirties period fad interests would have made that development easily possible such as in the paintings and sculptures of Roy Lichtenstein'. The title 'monument' was given partly as a joke; they were 'monuments', but made out of standard lighting equipment.
Some 20 or so sketches for this series were made between 1964 and 1970. 'I've never counted the designs. Perhaps, I will not draw more ... I believe that there is one diagram for 1965, one for 1966, none in 1967 and so forth. The last, at present, is of 1970'. Though some of them, including this work, have the tubes set vertically side by side rising to an apex at the centre like a tower, others have the tubes in diagonal positions and even separated at various angles from the vertical or horizontal. The present work is a variant of one of 1966 in which the three raised tubes are all the same distance from the bottom and which measures 9ft (274.5cm), the difference being that the central tube has been raised a further foot. (In Flavin's notebook, the sketch for this later version is dated 1966-9). 'Because I liked the seventh design just about right away when I had the opportunity spatially and financially to produce a Tatlin "monument" for the first time in May 1965 in old Furness Hall of the University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Contemporary Art, I opted for that one.
'The design for your installation ... was inaccurately noted at first because, as I remember, it was put down during an uptown subway ride in Manhattan on New York's Independent Line. I had to reorganise it for the retrospective examination in Ottawa  ... Your installation was first exposed in the three versions of the Canadian retrospective examination, the final one occurring in New York's Jewish Museum ... The actual equipment of your installation is new and slightly better in the fixtures than in Canada. The tubes are, as industrial quality controls permit, practically identical.'
Each installation is in an edition of five, three to be sold, one to be left in a complete set, and one at the artist's disposal. All the Tatlin 'monuments' are in cool white fluorescent light to enhance their emphasis on structural design.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.219-20, reproduced p.219