“I Want My Money Back!”

1960s Controversies Exhibitions Visitors

Dan Flavin's first museum exhibition, now legendary, provoked mixed responses at the time.

Rhona Hoffman, who is a great gallerist and my dear friend, she and I were volunteers at the time. I repeat, everybody was a volunteer practically, sitting at the front desk of the old building, of course, and we had a little cash box. I mean, nothing like a cash register. Nothing that glamorous. We had a little tin box, and the admission was 50 cents. So, people would come in and they’d give us 50 cents, and they’d give us a dollar and we’d make some change and give them 50 cents back.

And people were so outraged by the exhibition, they’d run back and say, “There is no show! There is no exhibition! It’s a bunch of light bulbs on the wall. There’s no exhibition. I want my money back.” So we gave them their money back. Pretty soon we ran out of money, because people came back twice when they realized they could do that. So, to say it was not popular with the public is a major understatement, but it’s been very popular with history.

Installation view, Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, MCA Chicago. Photo: David Van Riper, © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, MCA Chicago. Photo: David Van Riper, © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, MCA Chicago. Photo: David Van Riper, © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold, MCA Chicago. Photo: David Van Riper, © MCA Chicago.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: This is not art. I'm sorry to see this. It's just a simple electrical display. Please no more of this! Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: This is not art. I’m sorry to see this. It’s just a simple electrical display. Please no more of this! Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: "It's a put-on! Description a joke!" Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: “It’s a put-on! Description a joke!” Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: "Charging admission to view this exhibition is a swindle exceeded only by the white man's purchase of the island of Manhattan for $23." Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

Comment card from Dan Flavin: Pink and Gold: “Charging admission to view this exhibition is a swindle exceeded only by the white man’s purchase of the island of Manhattan for $23.” Image courtesy of the MCA Library and Archives.

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