PRINT April 2017


Daan van Golden

Daan van Golden in his studio, Schiedam, the Netherlands, September 11, 2014. Photo: John Hesselberth.

DAAN VAN GOLDEN vowed never to give an interview or a lecture. In 2004, when awarded the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for Art, he chose to accept the honor with a number of found quotes. “Art is not a contest” was a particular favorite of his. Van Golden elected not to participate in the competition of art. He worked slowly, even stopping altogether for a decade beginning in the late 1960s. He participated in the BKR (Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling), a system of financial support then given to artists by the Dutch government in exchange for their works, and so his art, for the most part, belongs to the collections of Dutch museums. For much of his career, he was represented by a single gallery, Micheline Szwajcer in Antwerp.

Van Golden passed away in Schiedam, the quiet little town just outside Rotterdam where he spent most of his life with his wife and daughter; the latter served as the subject of a series of photographs van Golden took over time, from her birth to when she was eighteen. He lived a sober life, traveling every day from his public-housing apartment to work in a municipal studio. Sometimes a whole year would give birth to just a single painting.

In the early ’60s, van Golden moved on from the black-and-white expressionistic abstraction he had been developing for a couple of years to works on canvas where he reproduced motifs found on various sources, from Japanese wrapping papers to handkerchiefs. The meticulous technique he used to transfer the patterns as exactly and neutrally as possible required untold time and concentration, but had the advantage of freeing the artist from the need to draw his inspiration from an emotional space. He had found a modus operandi that allowed him to combine art and life—an existential and aesthetic solution, an indexical as well as iconic registration of experience.

I had the great honor of curating five exhibitions of van Golden’s work, for both public institutions and a commercial gallery (Greene Naftali in New York). His is a wonderful body of work to spend time with—it radiates with the artist’s capacity to discover the marvelous and extraordinary at the heart of everyday experience. “Northern images do not disguise meaning or hide it beneath the surface but rather show that meaning by its very nature is lodged in what the eye can take in,” Svetlana Alpers wrote of seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Van Golden’s work shares with his compatriot master painters through history—among them Willem Claesz Heda, Jacob van Ruisdael, Vermeer, and Mondrian—the capacity to let us see what is visible but not frequently perceived.

Van Golden’s work is a major European cornerstone of a number of postwar movements, from geometric abstraction to Pop and from appropriation art to Minimalism. Yet there is no injustice in the relative lack of acknowledgment his work has encountered outside his native country. Daan lived as he chose, which meant withdrawing from the agitation and exposure of an art-world career. From now on, his life will be solely pursued through his profound aesthetic legacy.

Anne Pontégnie is codirector of Le Consortium in Dijon, France, and curator of The Cranford Collection in London.