File Note 36: Daan van Golden - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Anne Pontégnie



Daan van Golden Images References Quotes Biography Credits

Daan van Golden

Daan van Golden is a non-conformist in terms of both geography and his art. His work is famous in the Netherlands, but without being in any way anachronistic, it has developed at the margins of the major international styles. It is indicative that in the Sixties and Seventies the paintings of textile motifs which he did in Japan in 1964 were included in turn in the context of exhibitions devoted to Pop Art, Group Zero and American abstract painting. They could have found their place, as indeed could his later works, in exhibitions devoted to conceptual art, Minimalism or the appropriationism of the Eighties. However, their total independence of these movements is just as evident as their closeness to them. 

Van Golden is not a marginal artist. He has exhibited at the ICA in London and at Documenta 4, and represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale in 1999. There are pragmatic explanations of why his work has up to now remained the preserve of a few enthusiasts and the Dutch art institutions that own almost all of it.1 The fact that van Golden produces very little, too little to supply a ‘market’, is among them, but it cannot be dissociated from a more speculative explanation suggesting that the unassuming nature of his output is an integral part of a project in which art and existence are inextricably intermingled.

At the end of the 1950s van Golden as a young man worked on abstract, expressionist painting that demonstrated his interest in American painting, but also in the Cobra movement. During the long period he spent in Japan from 1963 to 1964, he discovered almost by chance a method that would determine all of his work up to the present time. He started to reproduce on canvas motifs found on wrapping paper and paper hankies. Over the twenty-four months he spent in Japan, he produced twenty or so paintings using these motifs. They are characterized by grids, floral patterns and organic forms. The meticulous technique used to reproduce them as accurately and neutrally as possible required a lot of time and concentration, but had the advantage of freeing the artist from the need to draw his inspiration from a closed mental and emotional space. From then on van Golden would adhere to that position: observing and finding the subjects of his pictural practice in his daily experience of the world and art.

Formally, because they bring together major modern forms like the grid and current consumer objects, van Golden’s works are located on the European flank of Pop Art alongside Polke, Richter or Hamilton. In reality, the project that gave rise to them brings them near on the one hand to ‘attitude’ art, upstream close to the work of someone like Yves Klein or the poster artists, and downstream close to conceptual artists like Douglas Huebler or On Kawara.

The works van Golden has been developing since the end of the 1970s – paintings, editions or photographs – carry on with the method started in Japan. Heerenlux (begun in 1993 after a long break in his career) is a series based on a floral motif found on a fabric sample. Depending on the nature of the exhibitions, details of the motif are reproduced at different scales on canvases of varying sizes. In parallel, van Golden isolates a work or a detail from a work – a budgerigar found in the work of Matisse (Blauw Studie naar Matisse), a walker by Giacometti (Studie Giacometti), a drip-painting by Pollock (Studie Pollock) – and reproduces its silhouette in colour on a canvas that is otherwise left untouched. Four copies of each painting are produced. A set of works, editions or photographs accompanies this pictural practice. They form a counterpoint thatagain reinforces the intimate resonance van Golden constructs between art and existence. At the same time they are the product of a process equivalent to that of the paintings, insofar as they proceed through observation, then through selection, among the flow of images encountered by the artist. Golden Years brings together seventy photographs found in daily newspapers. They have been chosen on the basis of their aesthetic criteria, but also because each one is accompanied by a date corresponding to one of the years that separates the birth of Daan van Golden in 1936 from his seventieth year.2 Youth is an art consists of more than one hundred photographs of the daily life of his daughter Diana, from birth to age eighteen. These two series are presented in a linear frieze, its horizontality evoking the passage of time that haunts them and gives them their emotional power. The paintings isolate artistic phenomena, Golden Years images from the press, Youth is an art moments in a life. Together, they do not attempt to draw up simplified equivalences but to show how art – as a practice – makes it possible to enrich and intensify an everyday experience from which it cannot be dissociated.

“Dutch images do not disguise any significance, but show that meaning is inserted in what the eyes are capable of grasping,” Svetlana Alpers3 explains in a book devoted to 17th century Dutch art. Poised between extreme topicality and timelessness, the work of van Golden also carries on the specific nature of that pictorial tradition. Thus his work shares with the still lifes of Willem Clasz, the landscapes of Ruysdael or the interiors of Vermeer, the capacity to let us see what is visible, but not necessarily perceived.


1. From the end of the 1960s until the beginning of the 1980s van Golden practically stopped painting. He then chose to subscribe to the
BKR, a system of financial support given to artists in exchange for their works. In this way the bulk of his work now belongs to Dutch public collections.

2. This work was completed in 2006 and presented at the Musée Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam when the artist turned seventy years old.

3. Svetlana Alpers, L’art de dépeindre, Gallimard, 1990, p. 22

Mikhail Lermontov Selected Works (Russian Classics Series) Progress Publishers (1976)

Thomas de Quincey Confessions of an English Opium Eater Penguin Classics (2003)

J.S. Bach Mattheüs Passion

The Rolling Stones Angie 

‘Art is the eternal movement of beauty, and its highest aim is to inspire.’ Bob Dylan

‘Inspiration — is to work every day.’ Charles Baudelaire


Daan van Golden was born in 1936 and lives and works in Schiedam, The Netherlands. Recent selected solo exhibitions include Greene Naftali Gallery, New York (2008); ‘Golden Years’, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2006); Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp (2003); ‘Mitsukoshi’, Gemeente Museum, The Hague (2001) and ‘Tokyo 1964’, Galerie Brutto Gusto, Rotterdam (2000). Recent group exhibitions include ‘Anagramme’, Musée des Arts Contemporains Grand-Hornu and ‘The trace of a trace of a trace’, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York (2006); ‘Verf’, Stadsgalerij, Heerlen, and ‘The Purloined Letter’, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole (2004). Daan van Golden participated in ‘It happened tomorrow’, 7th Lyon Biennale of Comtemporary Art, Lyon (2003) and the XLVIII Venice Biennale, Dutch Pavilion, Venice (1999).


Anne Pontégnie is an independent curator based in Brussels, Belgium.

Supported by the Mondriaan Foundation and the Royal Netherlands Embassy.