Tag Archives: Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”)

BMA Voices: Why is the BMA stockpiling fluorescent lamps?

Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"). 1993 1994. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan  Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 1993.210. © Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). 1993-1994. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 1993.210. © Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Angie Elliott, Associate Objects Conservator

The Museum has a stockpile of fluorescent lamps (bulbs) that are so important that we keep them stored away in a vault. While I used to think of cubicle-laden offices and big box stores when I thought of fluorescent lighting, now my mind goes to the challenges of preserving contemporary art.

Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), 1993-1994, is the reason we have such an important collection of lighting supplies. His installation of red, yellow, and blue fluorescent lamps lights up a corner in the back of the Contemporary Wing. Using both long and short lamps, the work forms a column that stretches 24 feet from the second floor through the ceiling to the third floor. The light reaches beyond the physical lamps and ballasts and transforms the surrounding space and architecture. I love that I can walk by the museum at night and catch glimpses of this light bouncing from this rear corner through the large glass windows in the front of the Contemporary Wing.

Flavin uses an everyday and familiar technology in an unfamiliar way, but what happens when the everyday and familiar are no longer that? Lighting technology is rapidly changing to keep up with new environmental and energy regulations. If you’ve bought a light bulb in the past few years, you’ve noticed that how quickly those changes are happening. We’ve gone from incandescent to compact fluorescents in just a few years with LEDs quickly coming on the scene. The fluorescent lamp as we know it will likely disappear in the future… so how does that affect Dan Flavin’s art?

Museums and collectors have already faced challenges as lamp colors have varied over time. Colors have shifted as different manufacturers take on what a red, yellow, or blue should be. Dan Flavin’s Estate has taken an active role in dealing with the issues of aging lamps and technology. Ten years ago, we joined with other museums and collectors to have our lamps specially produced. Never fear – our Flavin should remain unchanged for years to come, but we do have challenges to face in the coming decades.

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BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Light Play–Musing on Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”)

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf").

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”).

The tower of fluorescent lights looms large at a tight triangular junction where the old building meets the new. On a quiet day at the museum, you can literally hear it hum.

Flavin’s signature use of ordinary fluorescent tubes gives the work both a straightforward familiarity and a strange magic. Up close, you can see the screws, the wires, the ordinariness of the fixtures. But stay a while—the colors start to work on your eyes. The red, yellow, and blue bulbs mix—sunset raspberry and a delicate melon sorbet splash on the walls. The entire room is noticeably flooded with a lavender glow.

The sensory experience beckons. I slowly look up and linger longer than usual on the exit sign which glows a gorgeous green. I look left and notice a dramatic yellow cast in the adjacent gallery which my intellect knows is a crisp white. My eyes have shifted. The world has become a complex tapestry of colored light. Experiencing Flavin’s piece is also about following the light out into the space occupied by the light. It is expansive and also quite mysterious.

One of the pleasures of sitting with light art is all the questions surrounding light—how does Flavin’s skillful work with light seduce the senses and alter one’s perception? What is causing my eyes to see a white room as yellow? Why does colored light create such suggestive moods and alter the character of space?

It is these questions and more that we’ll explore in the BMA’s Big Table Connections program on Saturday July 5, when light artist and lighting designer Glenn Shrum joins us for a session on Dan Flavin’s piece and the inner workings of light.

Shrum is the owner and founder of Flux Studio. He is an active member of the international lighting design and lighting education community and Assistant Professor of Lighting Design at Parsons The New School for Design. We invited him to lead a session of the BMA’s Big Table Connections program. Thankfully, Glenn very generously agreed. In June, he came to the museum for a fascinating planning session and developed a clever in-gallery project with his colored light tables. Participants will get to try their hand at color mixing with light. How might you mix light and reshape space. What marvelous effects will you generate? Be sure to bring your cameras or devices to document your experiments.

What do you think? Have you experienced Flavin’s work? How did it impact your senses? What other special experiences with light have you had?

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program is a great opportunity to unpack complex ideas in contemporary art from multiple perspectives. This year we have been presenting sessions on Minimalism and its offshoots. We could not finish the season in August without looking closely at the work of Dan Flavin in our Contemporary Wing.

Join us on Saturday, July 5 at 2 p.m., to hear Glenn discuss light art and lighting design, and provide valuable context for Flavin’s work. After Glenn’s talk, we’ll move into the galleries and try our hand at mixing colored light. Hope to see you there!