Daniel Flavin was born in Jamaica, New York, on April 1, 1933. He studied for the priesthood for a time. During military service in 1954–55, Flavin studied art through the University of Maryland Extension Program in Korea. Upon his return to New York in 1956, he briefly attended the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts and studied art history at the New School for Social Research. In 1959, he took drawing and painting classes at Columbia University; this year, he began to make assemblages and collages in addition to painting. Flavin’s early paintings reflect the influence of Abstract Expressionism. His first solo show of constructions and watercolors was held at the Judson Gallery, New York, in 1961.
In the summer of 1961, while working as a guard at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Flavin started to make sketches for sculptures in which electric lights were incorporated. Late in that year, he made his first light sculptures; he called these “icons.” In 1963, he began to work with colored fluorescent tubes. His sculpture was shown in a solo exhibition, some light, at the Kaymar Gallery, New York, in 1964. In 1967, Flavin was a guest instructor of design at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. By 1968, he had developed his sculpture into room-size environments of light; this year, he outlined an entire gallery in ultraviolet light at Documenta in Kassel. A retrospective of Flavin’s work was organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, in 1969; the exhibition traveled to the Jewish Museum in New York in 1970. Among Flavin’s numerous exhibitions in Europe were solo shows in Cologne in 1974 and Basel in 1975. He has executed many commissions, including the lighting of several tracks at Grand Central Station in New York in 1976. He died in 1996.