monument to V. Tatlin 1966-69 is one of a series of sculptures using standard-length fluorescent tubes that Flavin began planning in 1964. According to the artist, the series 'memorialises Vladimir Tatlin, the great revolutionary, who dreamed of art as science. It stands, a vibrantly aspiring order, in lieu of his last glider which never left the ground'.'1 Vladmir Tatlin (1885-1953), a leading artist of the Russian avant-garde, began to develop a flying machine in 1929 which he called 'Letatlin'. Flavin admired Tatlin's desire to unite art and technology 'away from the usual institutional confines which are supposed to identify art so especially apart from daily concerns'.2
The use of the term 'monument' in the title of this series is supposed to be ironic; the fragile fluorescent tubes are contrary to the bronze or stone traditionally used in monumental sculpture, and in order to emphasise this point Flavin has insisted that it be spelled in lowercase letters.
All of the Tatlin monuments use white fluorescent light tubes set adjacent to each other but are arranged in a variety of configurations, rising vertically, as in the Australian National Gallery's version, horizontally and also diagonally in others. Flavin may have executed as many as thirty sketches for different configurations of the series between 1964 and 1970.
Monument 7 for V Tatlin 1964-65 was the first of the monuments to be fabricated and was shown at the University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Contemporary Art in May 1965; others were assembled irregularly as the opportunity to exhibit them presented itself.3 The dating of each work refers jointly to the original diagram and subsequent realisation. Hence, in the case of the Gallery's example, a sketch of 1966 forms the basis for this configuration which was fabricated in 1969.
In all there are thirty-nine variations within the series of monuments to Tatlin, each in an edition of five. The works in the same edition as the Gallery's configuration are located as follows: The Menil Foundation, Houston (1/5); Gilman Paper Company, New York (2/5); Australian National Gallery, Canberra (3/5); the artist (4/5); and the artist (5/5)
The Gallery owns a second, later, fluorescent work by Flavin: Untitled (for Robert, with fond regards) 1977.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.358.
- Dan Flavin, 'The Artists Say', Art Voices, vol. IV, Summer 1965, p.72.
- Letter from Dan Flavin to Ronald Alley of 12 April 1972, quoted in Ronald Alley, The Tate Gallery's Collection of Modem Art Other than Works by British Artists, London: Tate Gallery in association with Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1981, p.219.
- Monuments conceived after 1964 were not given consecutive numbers.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010