‘The return of the performance’ is the name of a painting made by René Daniëls in 1987. The painting depicts a room that you could interpret as an exhibition space. Not only are there paintings on the walls – it seems as if the paintings have moved away from the walls into the room itself and have become so light that it almost looks as if they are hovering in the air.
You can read the paintings suspended in the room as pianos, a compelling interpretation considering the stand in the middle of the room and to which not one but a whole bunch of microphones is attached. You get the impression that a spotlight is directed from above onto the microphone, casting a red circle of light on the floor. Together, the spots of white light and the black base of the microphone create a shape that looks like an LP record. The walls at the back do not join up, leaving an opening large enough to reveal a figure, a figure poised as if to enter the stage. Or is it just stepping back into the wings? Because a large part of the image in the painting is set aside for the foreground of the room, the walls do not join at the back and there is no ceiling, when you look at it, the picture of an exhibition space with paintings on the wall tips over into a theatre pit, or taking a broad view, a stage with decorations.
Does the title René Daniëls chose refer to the fact that his paintings actively involve the audience in creating meaning? That the meaning of the motifs he presents in his paintings is not fixed but presupposes an enactment, so that these motifs have to be ‘performed’ time and again in response to ever-changing interpretations and views?
‘The return of the performance’ could also refer to ‘stardom’, a typical phenomenon in the art of the 1980s. Painting was booming again, after a period during the sixties and seventies, in which the art world had been dominated by research and experiment and classic disciplines had been deconstructed. Artists no longer had to deal with just a small group of connoisseurs who brokered their work, shielded them and enabled them to concentrate on their work in the seclusion of their studios – things were now ‘expected’ of them. René Daniëls’ career, which was marked out by an early recognition of his talent and frequent showings of his works at major international exhibitions, coincided with these developments in the 1980s, developments that changed the art world for good. From a private/individual affair it became a public/social one. Artists no longer worked in isolation, they were expected to ‘perform’.
The current Plug In featuring work by René Daniëls is looking to focus attention on the role of the artist as performer. This is done by presenting ‘The House’, a painting made in 1986. Basically, it is an almost exact reflection of ‘The return of the performance’. However, in this painting, Daniëls has applied his ‘sweet wrappings’ principle: a transparent white layer overlaps the image, as if you were looking through tissue paper, glasses or a (theatre?) colour filter. This haze lends depth to the background of the image, returning space to its rightful owner, as it were. Floating in the background are Daniëls’ famous bow tie motifs, the wall structures of the (exhibition) space rendered in a diagrammatic style. Their graphic design makes them look almost like words trying to suck into the painting, as if to say ‘I’m going to tell quite a different story!’
‘The House’ is presented in conjunction with work by other artists from the collection, artists who also reflect on the role of the artist as ‘performer’. In ‘Performer/Audience/Mirror’ (1977), Dan Graham problematises, and intensifies, the relationship between the artist (performer) and his audience, describing it as follows: ‘Through the use of a mirror the audience is able to instantaneously perceive itself as a public body (as a unity), offsetting its definition by the performer. This gives it a power within the performance equivalent to that of the performer.’
In ‘Self-portrait with winter branches’ (1944-45), Charley Toorop presents a keen portrait of herself. As with Daniëls, Toorop’s artistic approach reveals an interest in theatre and film. Her face is illuminated as if by a spotlight; the extreme framing of the face suggests a lens zooming in. Her face is inescapably laid bare to the audience’ eyes, who, with nothing to distract them from it, are led directly to that one picture that concentrates exclusively on the artist’s face. In this painting, a face is ‘theatrically’ blown up, ‘pushed aside’ as it were, and made into a symbolic ‘face of a face’.
On the table are several notes reflecting René Daniëls’ thoughts on the artist as performer, a selection of the many thoughts that are connected to this notion. “About the changing of meanings of certain data. I prefer the forms of appearances that do not lie on the surface. That is what amusement means to me; undressing the muse. The fleece is still one of my preoccupations. Objects and concepts always appear twice, once in reality, later as an idea for work. Eggs and verse eggs. The fleece lies in between (and is put together as spalk [spit + talk]) And that’s what these works are about.”