Consolidated Economic Support

Dan Flavin Untitled 1990

“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. 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.” [Dan Flavin in conversation with Tiffany Bell]

I love these little gems left in interviews of our well known blue chippers. Once again we hear an artist advocating for a bit of Clem Greenberg’s golden umbilical. It’s also interesting that the binary choices for making art are either public money [where institutions must be placated and dealt with] or private money [where an artist is backed by silent partners]. But in our Neo-Liberal era private money has become more vocal. We live in the time of the activist investor – the majority shareholder who demands a seat on the board and a voice in the direction of the company – or else the money will be pulled and the stock depressed through market manipulations. Private money in the arts is more prevalent today, and this has had unforeseen implications in our own art economy – the rise of the activist collector. What we are seeing – more and more – is the artist and the activist collector “collaborating” in order to protect the collector’s investment.

Dan Flavin Untitled Marfa project 1996

“To ensure the work’s continuity, the Flavin estate contracted a custom fabricator to make hand-crafted copies of the bulbs, piecing together available components and matching the chemical composition of the phosphorescent film that gives each its color. Likewise, new fixtures are made to order using vintage templates rescued from the original factory… One factor in valuing a Flavin, however, dwarfs all others: the certificate that accompanied its production. To those who wonder what the difference is between a Flavin and the lights in their office, the certificate, more or less, is the answer. Each of the more than 750 light sculptures that Flavin designed — usually in editions of three or five — were listed on index cards and filed away. When one sold, the buyer received a certificate containing a diagram of the work, its title and the artist’s signature and stamp. If someone showed up with a certificate and a damaged fixture, Flavin would replace it. But without a certificate, the owner was out of luck. Today, Christie’s won’t even consider a Flavin sculpture unless it’s accompanied by an original document.” [Greg Allen on Dan Flavin]

Flavin had to develop an institution to create custom fabrications of outdated materials in order to maintain his work in perpetuity. What exactly does that say about the art, the artist and the artist’s intentions? Additionally in order to get one’s work serviced one is required to present a certification of provenance/investment (like a stock certificate). Basically this institution is a clearing house for the protection, preservation and upkeep of a very specific art investment. But this is by no means a unique situation. “Foundations” like this one have popped up around nearly every well known artist from the 20th Century, even a few who are still alive and kicking.
So when you plug in the antiquated Flavin are you burning the investment? What is the cost of the aesthetic pleasure of the light or is the fixture itself just as pleasing? How intertwined are the aesthetics and the COI per lumen? What does a “new” bulb cost and is that also considered a piece of art? Does that play a part in the aesthetic enjoyment? In other words how does one value this ephemeral moment when Flavin himself said that these pieces were not meant to last? [interesting discussion here]

Henri values your comments!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.