Critics’ Picks

View of  “Apperception,” 2012. Center: Buddha, 1971–73.

View of “Apperception,” 2012. Center: Buddha, 1971–73.


Daan van Golden

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre
Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354
January 28–April 29, 2012

It is hardly surprising that “Apperception,” Daan van Golden’s retrospective, begins with a painting of a golden Buddha’s head who greets visitors with a friendly smile. Not only is the work a play on van Golden’s name, which could be roughly translated to “of gold,” but the Buddha also perfectly reflects the painter’s temperament: perpetually serene, detached, and untouched by passing fads. His major breakthrough, in this respect, came in the 1960s. Before then, van Golden had painted large, abstract compositions, in the spirit of Franz Kline. While living in Japan for a few years, however, he changed course radically. From then on, all forms of self-expression were taboo, and his paintings took their content directly from reality: a checkered handkerchief, Japanese wrapping paper, a newspaper photograph of Fats Domino––all ascetic in their precision and perfect in every detail. He would only paint when he believed that the act of observation and the painting could truly add something to the reality. He was never prolific. Van Golden preferred to travel, always in search of exceptional, eloquent images.

So this “big” van Golden exhibition is actually quite small, but highly concentrated. Since the 1970s, van Golden has focused mainly on isolating meaningful details in the work of artistic predecessors such as Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, and Jackson Pollock. In Pollock’s drippings, for instance, he has discovered all sorts of astonishing figures, from a Russian sergeant major conversing with another man to a fox with an erection talking to a masked being, images that show up in two works (from 1995 and 1996) in his “Study Pollock” series. Van Golden’s intention is not to suggest that there are hidden references in Pollock’s work, but to show that viewers who can truly liberate themselves from the maelstrom of received ideas will reap a wealth of visual and conceptual rewards. And this is precisely what happens in van Golden’s own work. Rarely do visitors leave an exhibition so enlightened.

Translated from Dutch by David McKay.