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A Post-Metaphysical Turn: Contingency and Givenness in the Early Work of Dan Flavin (1959–1964)

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Abstract Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light installations have long served art historians by marking the turn from the late modernist illusionist space of painting to the new immanence of specific objects. In the narration of this genealogy, the crux of minimalism, as Hal Foster calls it, rests on a nominal approach that proclaims metaphysical relations as an obstacle and calls out to evade any notion of meaning. By contrast, this essay asserts the primacy of metaphysics in Flavin’s [en]lighted work. By tracing the artist’s scholastic education, his contemporary theo-political stance, and his rejection of objecthood, I argue that Flavin was continuously preoccupied with Catholic theology and that his work is imbued with Christian iconography. Thinking alongside the fourteenth-century philosopher William of Ockham and the twentieth-century post-Husserlian phenomenology of Jean-Luc Marion, the evolution of Flavin’s light constructions proves relevant to the quandary of metaphysics and the role of theology in radical immanence. To bracket his metaphysics is to ignore the full implications of his art.

Affiliations: 1: University of Toronto


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