René Daniëls’ 1987 painting Kades-Kaden (Quays-Quays) depicts a huddled row of canal houses and warehouses overlooking an Amsterdam gracht. First exhibited the year of its execution in the city-wide exhibition...
René Daniëls’ 1987 painting Kades-Kaden (Quays-Quays) depicts a huddled row of canal houses and warehouses overlooking an Amsterdam gracht. First exhibited the year of its execution in the city-wide exhibition Century 87, Kunst van nu ontmoet Amsterdams verleden (Today’s Art Face-to-Face with Amsterdam’s Past), it was suspended at Daniëls’ request in the atrium of Amsterdam’s Scheepvaarthuis (Shipping House) opposite a pendant painting of the same title (collection of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt). The exhibition, organised on the occasion of Amsterdam’s year as the European Capital of Culture, showcased the Dutch capital and its cultural gravitas, and in so doing arguably instrumentalised the work of young artists including Daniëls. Undoubtedly aware of the politics at play in such a project, Daniëls responded accordingly.
In the upper left corner of the painting, the overpainted ‘FILOSOPHIE’ is further obscured behind the text ‘BLAUWE REIGER’ (BLUE HERON). Beneath the upper edge of the canvas, the annotation ‘DE ZON’ (THE SUN) appears – like the textual signifier of the blue heron – in its rightful place within the composition, which reads now in the terms of a diagrammatic landscape. ‘ARCHITECTURE’ is branded declaratively across the clustered buildings, some of which bear individual names (in turn: ‘LARGE SWAN’, ‘JAVA’, ‘NO. 7’, ‘SMALL SWAN’). Art historian Dr. Angela M. Bartholomew notes, “‘ARCHITECTURE’, in effect, has taken over ‘FILOSOFIE’ as the guiding principle denoted by the painting.” In ways both literal and figurative, the label’s enlarged scale suppresses a formal reading of Daniëls’ image as a shelf populated with books.
The suggestion, it could be extrapolated, is that the status and hubris of a building such as the Scheepvaarthuis – its allusions to the power and wealth associated with Dutch global trade and its colonial legacies – might obscure or erase any philosophical gesture by Daniëls contained within it. Like all Daniëls’ paintings of the period, Kades-Kaden thus exhibited a certain self-reflexivity within its site-specific context at Century 87. As Bartholomew further remarks, “For Daniëls’ installation the ‘surroundings’ of Kades-Kaden were more than the building in which the paintings were hung, and more than the city where commerce brought together land and sea. Participating in an exhibition such as this required an artist to contend with the dynamics of power and capital that put art under pressure.” This matrix of motives both patriotic, artistic, and commercial, is complicated by Daniëls’ choice of safety orange, likely in recognition of William of Orange, who led the Dutch Revolt against Habsburg occupation that precipitated the Eighty Years’ War of 1568-1648.
Daniëls’ carefully considered hang (fig. 1), in which the two paintings entered an architectonic ‘face-off’, turned the exhibition title on itself and analogised his own reflection on the past via both the architectural and political histories of Amsterdam. By incorporating the white walls of the exhibition space, his curatorial strategy aligned with a strand of institutional critique that had gained traction earlier in the decade among a contingent of New York-based artists to whom he had been exposed during his time at the PS1 studio program. Moreover, the Scheepvaarthuis installation realised in three dimensions the iconic bow tie motif introduced by Daniëls in 1984 with his series Mooie tentoonstellingen (Beautiful Exhibitions). The blank space between the paintings became the linking ‘wall’ of Daniëls’ trompe l’oeil bow tie. In doing so, it subverted any inherent power dynamic by instrumentalising the building itself in the service of the artworks.