John Coplans’ essay, “Pasadena’s Collapse and the Simon Takeover: Diary of Disaster” written for Artforum in 1975, unravels the mirages and problems that the Pasadena Art Museum faced before being essentially purchased by ketchup mogul Norton Simon. Architects Lad + Kelsey's plan rode over the balance of architecture and beneficial exhibition space for their own design vision. The new building and location opened in late 1969 with a chaotic flurry of anticipation from the staff and artists, a renovation that eventually cost the museum its soul.
During this period Coplans worked as the senior curator (1967-1969), seeking to expand the museum’s contemporary collection. One of the works purchased in those years was Dan Flavin’s “monument” on the survival of Mrs. Reppin, 1966. This particular piece required a corner installation; however, due to the Lad + Kelsey design of round curved wall edges, the work was unable to be installed in accord with the artist's vision until Frank Gehry renovated the galleries in 1999. However, “monument” on the survival of Mrs. Reppin, has rarely been shown properly.
I decided to focus on one work alone, in an attempt to strip history from the equation of looking at art. Simply just in for the pleasure of admiring without consequence in any form (no tweets, instagram, facebook, or any other social media ripoff in mind). It seems like I failed at my attempt, but also succeeded. For this reason, it’s best to look at Flavin as the landscape after a storm, or the first phases of early morning—constantly altering light and the horizon. Sometimes, just in it for pure pleasure.
Known for his fluorescent light arrays, Flavin most often dedicated his luminous landscapes to people he knew or artists who inspired him. Even though some of Flavin’s titles tongue at satire, they are more striking as vanishing moments and stories, electric icons and monuments.
For “monument” on the survival Mrs. Reppin, Flavin was compelled by the WWII history of dealer Rudolf Zwirner's mother-in-law who had been interned by the Allies for not divorcing her German husband. A mysterious work, subtly lit in contrasts to the artist’s usual bright, atmospheric color. We know almost nothing of Mrs. Reppin but her legend, and only with this cornered monument of fluorescent white and red.
If you’re into the whole nostalgia ridden singularity, the second gallery of the Beyond Brancusi exhibition of which this piece is part, plays out a beautiful color theory of blues and grays, almost alluding to a cinematic theater stage or a Guy de Cointet play backdrop. The works in the second gallery were gifts to the museum by the artists under the curatorial workings of John Coplans—works were acquired in the same year as the Flavin.
[Image on top: Dan Flavin, American, 1933-1996, "monument" on the survival of Mrs. Reppin, 1966, Warm red and white fluorescent light, Norton Simon Museum, Museum Purchase, Fellows Acquisition Fund; © 2012 Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.]