Critics’ Picks

View of “René Daniëls––An Exhibition is Always Part of a Greater Whole,” 2012. Photo: Peter Cox.


René Daniëls

Van Abbemuseum
Bilderdijklaan 10
May 12 - September 23

Part of the enduring charm of René Daniëls’s paintings is the impenetrability of his iconography. Isometric diagrams of rooms morph into bowties, vinyl records, waves, rats, skateboards, swans, mussels, and family trees, lending his imagery a playful perhaps even mysterious quality. Rising to prominence in the 1980s, Daniëls was included in such landmark exhibitions as the 1982 Documenta 7 and the 1983 São Paulo Bienal. But in 1987, at the age of thirty-seven, he suffered a brain hemorrhage, which silenced his production until 2007 and enhanced the painter’s enigmatic allure.

Given the lush and lyrical nature of Daniëls’s painting style, it would be easy to mistake him for a neo-Expressionist. In truth, his art is closer to the visual wit of artists like Marcel Broodthaers and René Magritte than to the emotive lyricism of Georg Baselitz or Enzo Cucchi. For example, a diptych, titled An ‘I’ Grieving Over a Dot, 1983, depicts a rectangle of a white door on a drippy black field on one side and a moonlike circle on a blue painterly ground on the other. It is this interplay between word and image, seeing and reading, picture making and painting, that is the hallmark of his work.

Largely devoted to the Dutchman’s mature ’80s paintings and his working drawings, this exhibition reminds us that while Daniëls’s laconic and casual handling of paint grew from his early repetitive images of vinyl and cameras, its rhythmic sensibility can still be likened to musical beats. It is as if Daniëls were quickly laying down images on canvas to act as anchors slowing the viewer’s gaze. This combination of quick painting and slow gazing makes an encounter with Daniëls’s art all the more pleasurable.