Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Dan Colen at Gagosian, Davies Street

Posted in Reviews by paulpys on February 6, 2009

gago12 gago21







Alone he wandered, lost Eurydice
Lamenting, and the gifts of Dis ungiven


It is that precise moment of imminent absence, as Orpheus emerges from Hades to face a lifetime of solitude, that air seemingly loses its radiance. Étonnante virginité! – cries Rimbaud, forlorn in a quest of true love. Ghostly contours permeate the scene, left with nothing but an impending sense of loss.


Dan Colen’s final instalment of a three part project at Gagosian Gallery ends with a solitary work – An Allegory of Faith – exhibited at Davies Street. The clean and brilliant white space envelops the oil painting portraying a single, marble bench, illuminated by a light hue of pink. Dark and wistful branches of an ancient willow tree act as drapes to the scene; leaves, flowers lay astrew adding to the mise-en-scene. A pulsating and yet momentaneous blue hovers above the marble bench, as if about to exit the scene.


The loss of human presence, replaced by a fleeting post corporeal mood creates a specific melancholic metaphysics. A deep sense of loss, disempowerment and nostalgia permeate Colen’s work. The cool marble invokes an imagery of ancient Arcadia – of simple, yet fulfilling existence. Despite the rustic charm of the theatrical setting, nature’s timeless beauty reminds of the relentless pace of passing time – of the frailty of existence, peripherality of experience and dissolution of purpose. As in Nicholas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego, death lurks not in a side gallery, but ahead by the proscenium, if not in the prompter’s corner. The moment of contemplation has ended, the bench – vacated, in turn leaving behind the peculiar crossroads of the human condition, fixed between the visceral instantaneous and eternal nature.


Intrinsic to Colen’s exhibition is a small booklet of photographs of benches in Central Park, shot over the course of an afternoon, evening and night. The glaring lights of the park stand in stark contrast to the painting, as if soulless, fabricated, sterile. Contemporary thought, pondering and finally – faith are perhaps left to the flawed individual inhabiting the metropolis, the spoilt and squandered Arcadia. Fatigued and surrendered becomes the human in An Allegory of Faith, for inevitably ‘Ennui, the fruit of dismal apathy / Becomes as large as immortality’.




Virgil, The Georgics (Part IV) 29 B.C.

Rimbaud, A. (1873) Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell)

Baudelaire, C. (1857) Spleen (Quand le ciel bas et lourd)


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