We are speaking today about the artist that brought the neon lights into the artworld, Dan Flavin. Actually, this is one of the most important aspect of contemporary art: it has to be innovative. Every artist has to bring something new (think for example of Roy Lichtestein and his comics, or of Andy Warhol and his tomato soups!), and Flavin did so with neon lights: after him many artists started using the same material in different ways.

What is stunning about Flavin’s work is the atmosphere that he is able to create: so meaningful and touchy. In this case, Flavin is transforming a whole room with bright red light. The symbolism of the red colour reminds immidiately of blood and violence, and the title of the artwork confirms this impression: this is a commemorative monument for soldiers who were killed in ambushes, and the artist is referring specifically to the Vietnam war (happening in those years), because the deaths from ambushes were a very important issue for Americans at the time.

The shape of the installation is very important: it resembles a crossbow with a neon tube pointing straight to te viewer, like an arrow. The bows were the soldiers’ favourite weapon to make ambushes, so it is a perfect symbol of it. Moreover, pointing the arrow towards the viewers makes them feel like they are the victims. The red environment makes the whole atmosphere so much more frightening.

In a way works like this one, made in the same years, had the fundamental function of condamning the war of Vietnam as an actual war, while before it was undeclared.

– M.C.

Bibliography and further readings:

WEISS Jeffrey, Dan Flavin: It is What it is and it ain’t Nothing Else, Ikon Gallery Ltd, 2016

AUPING Michael,‎ WHITNEY Alexandra, Dan Flavin: Corners, Barriers and Corridors, David Zwirner Books, 2016

FLAVIN Dan, BELL‎ Tiffany, Dan Flavin: Series and Progressions, Steidl, 2010



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