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Dan Flavin's exploration of light at the Serpentine

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Clare Melhuish reviews. . .

In 1965, Dan Flavin wrote: 'What has art been for me? In the past, I have known it (basically) as a sequence of implicit decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space. . .'

The current exhibition of pieces, loaned to the Serpentine Gallery by the artist's son and the Dia Center for the Arts, provides an opportunity to view and experience the work of an American artist who - along with others such as Donald Judd and James Turrell - is often cited as a significant influence by British architects of a 'minimalist' inclination.

Flavin's materials consist of basic fluorescenttube light-fixtures and the palette offered by the available hues of fluorescent light. It was this 'economy of means' which led to his work being denoted 'minimalist', a term which he himself disliked and rejected - as did most of the British architects dubbed minimalist during the 1980s and '90s.

He argued that, on the contrary, his investigations into the relationship between space, light, and the formal components enclosing space offered a rich perceptual experience, to which the abstracted formalism of the installation played a subordinate role.

It is this attitude which struck a chord with many architects, keen to distance themselves from the formal excesses of Post-Modernism, and the excess of 'meaning' attached to that multitude of signs and surface-colours.

The Serpentine exhibition reveals what powerful visual effects can be achieved with coloured light, and how light influences one's perception of space. Installed in the west gallery, the strong green fluorescent 'barrier' construction entitled Untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) transforms the environment of the gallery and the park framed by the windows into a haze of dark pink.

After spending a few minutes in this room, the preceding gallery (formerly a pure white, introverted container for a series of 'monuments'made of cool white fluorescent light, dedicated to V Tatlin) is also richly saturated in pink.

The relentless repetition of vertical and horizontal lines in the installations themselves become less the focus of attention, than a more dissipated perception of colour-washing and merging against the walls and floors of the space.

The work highlights the flatness of the detailing of the gallery itself, so that one becomes acutely aware of its limits as an architectural and spatial experience.

It seems significant that the four cornerpieces on display, conceived as a celebration of a particularly meaningful kind of architectural space, have not been installed in the actual corners of the galleries, but are joined together as a freestanding sculptural installation more reminiscent of an exhibition stand.

The work of Dan Flavin is showing at the Serpentine Gallery, London, until 23 September

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