The death of Daniel Nicholas Flavin Jr. on November 19, 1996, sent my memory rushing back to the early sixties, now a mythic moment in the history of art. Born on April 1, 1933, Flavin was part of my own generation, for which the complementary austerities of an iconic soup can and a perfect rectangle appeared to launch a visual order in which industrial uniformity and pure cerebration would be the reigning muses. Worshiping early at New York's shrines of modern art (he once worked as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art and attended Meyer Schapiro's lectures at Columbia), by 1963 Flavin had become a pillar of the fiercely intelligent young art establishment whose spirit was nurtured monthly by the then year-old Artforum. I can't remember exactly how or when we first met, but it must have been somewhere in those rigorous precincts where the likes of Carl Andre, Frank Stella, and Barbara Rose were drafting new aesthetic constitutions. Yet even within this group of the sharpest cutting edges, Flavin stood out, his toweringly intractable presence always cushioned from reality by his devoted wife, Sonia Severdija.
Teaching then at Princeton, I was only a weekender in this freshly minted world; but in the spring of 1963, my weekend extended through Mondays, when I gave a guest course at Columbia on Neoclassic painting. Always keen on art history and assuming, I think, that I was a student of Schapiro's (which I was not), Flavin asked to audit my lectures, especially those on Ingres, and then thanked me for the favor in the most generous ways. First there was a drawing dated April 25, 1963, which he offered to me with an inscribed dedication. Titled icon IV (the pure land), it copied an earlier construction (now lost), a Formic square topped horizontally by a single fluorescent tube. In 1962, when Flavin was first working on this piece, his twin brother, David John, died, and in my drawing the shrinelike object was turned into a memorial by a tombstone-type inscription that recorded his brother's birth and death date. (There is a telling parallel here to Barnett Newman Shining Forth (to George) of 1961, the painter's abstract altarpiece commemorating his own brother's death in February of that year.)
One month after he executed this drawing, Flavin, echoing Newman Onement I ( 1948), took a quantum leap, creating his first work made from nothing but a single standard eight-foot yellow fluorescent tube (fig. 154). He originally called it the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi), but in 1963, in a second version shown at the Kaymar Gallery, New York, he replaced Brancusi's name with mine, an apotheosis that still has me