From the outset, Dan Colen’s paintings have continually investigated one foundational question: To what extent does art come from the artist, and to what extent does it arise from forces independent of the artist? In his earliest works, Colen labored over precise oil renderings of banal interiors—a sloppy apartment bathroom, an adolescent bedroom, a camping tent—into which he introduced the presence of the supernatural—the Blue Fairy, Jesus Christ, twinkling cherubs, his deceased grandfather. He describes his subsequent series of Candle paintings as “portraits of God.” In these works, the space of the canvas embodies Geppetto’s worktable—where Pinocchio transcends his materiality to become real—and a message appears in the smoke left by a just-extinguished candle flame.
In 2006 Colen started to make “paintings” with chewing gum instead of paint, ushering in a long period during which he traded representational subject matter for an exploration of the medium itself. Using flowers, dirt, grass, tar and feathers, Mylar confetti, street trash, and readymade metal studs, he relinquished his controlled approach to painting, allowing the final result to be guided by the behavior of a given material. He has mused on this loss of control as a source of excitement, commenting that it was as if the paintings were taking on “inevitable forms—almost like destined forms.”
Colen was born in 1979 in New Jersey. He received a BFA in 2001 from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. Recent solo exhibitions include Peanuts, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo (2011); In Living Color, FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2012); The Illusion of Life, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (2013); Help!, Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut (2014); The L . . . o . . . n . . . g Count, Walter De Maria Building, New York (2014); Psychic Slayer, Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark (2015); Shake the Elbow, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (2015); Oil Painting, Dallas Contemporary (2016); and Sweet Liberty, Newport Street Gallery, London (2017–18). Colen’s work was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and the 12th Lyon Biennale in 2013. His work is featured in collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; de la Cruz Collection, Miami; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Jiménez-Cólón Collection, Ponce, Puerto Rico; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Colen lives and works in New York.
February 26–April 4, 2020
Park & 75, New York
November 2–December 15, 2018
When I’m Gone
March 21–May 13, 2016
September 2–October 18, 2014
555 West 24th Street, New York
Out of the Blue, Into the Black
June 12–July 28, 2012
Blowin’ in the Wind
April 5–July 5, 2012
Merlin Street, Athens
September 19–October 29, 2011
September 10–October 16, 2010
555 West 24th Street, New York
Dan Colen: Sky High Farm
In this video, Dan Colen speaks about his inspiration in founding Sky High Farm as a way to address food insecurity and improve access to fresh, nutritious food for underserved communities in New York. Established in 2011, the 40-acre farm raises pasture-based livestock and grows organic fruit and vegetables exclusively for donation.
The Bigger Picture
Sky High Farm × Project EATS
Dan Colen and Linda Goode Bryant are both artists who have founded nonprofits devoted to food justice. Here they speak about art, food, and life, including how they arrived at farming and the urgency of their projects’ missions during the current health crisis.
A Single Moment: Dan Colen and Francesco Bonami
Dan Colen joins Francesco Bonami in a conversation about absence and nostalgia, decadence and decay, progress and failure—and about help, the theme of his most recent body of paintings.
Dan Colen with Hans Ulrich Obrist
Against the backdrop of his survey exhibition Sweet Liberty, Dan Colen speaks about his work with Hans Ulrich Obrist, starting with his earliest interest in art and continuing up to the recent Desert paintings (2015–19).
Dan Colen: Carry On Cowboy
Gagosian Quarterly presents Dan Colen’s Carry On Cowboy. This performance first took place during the exhibition Dan Colen: High Noon at Gagosian, Beverly Hills.
Dan Colen: At Least They Died Together
Gagosian Quarterly presents Dan Colen’s At Least They Died Together. This performance first took place during the exhibition Dan Colen: High Noon at Gagosian, Beverly Hills.
Gagosian Quarterly Talks
Dan Colen, Dimitri Chamblas, and Douglas Fogle
Douglas Fogle moderates a conversation between Dan Colen and Dimitri Chamblas following the premiere of Colen’s two performance pieces At Least They Died Together and Carry On Cowboy.
Work in Progress
We visit the artist’s studio in Brooklyn, New York, to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his new series of Desert paintings while he prepares for an upcoming exhibition in Beverly Hills. Text by Ben Eastham.
The Bigger Picture
Free Arts NYC
Meredith Mendelsohn discusses the impact of Free Arts NYC and its mission to foster creativity in children and teens, on the occasion of its twenty-year anniversary.
Dan Colen and Ali Subotnick
Dan Colen speaks with Ali Subotnick on the occasion of his exhibition, Dan Colen: Sweet Liberty, at the Newport Street Gallery in London.
The Bigger Picture
Derek Blasberg speaks with Diane Brown, president and founder of RxArt, and with contributing artists Dan Colen, Urs Fischer, and Jeff Koons about the transformative power of visual art.
Dan Colen: The Bowery School
In this video from the Louisiana Channel, Dan Colen sits down to talk about friends like Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow, and how his art developed to a place of celebration.
Food Justice and Security
Dan Colen, Linda Goode Bryant, and Qiana Mickie in Conversation with Sonia Chopra
Thursday, August 6, 2020, 5pm EDT
Join Gagosian and 92nd Street Y for a conversation on contemporary food justice and community food security. The presentation will feature three speakers working in the field: Dan Colen, artist and founder of Sky High Farm, a nonprofit working to improve access to nutritious food for New Yorkers in underserved communities; gallerist and filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant, founder of Project EATS, an urban farming initiative aimed at sustainable food production in low income communities in New York City; and Qiana Mickie, special projects consultant for Just Food, a pioneer in food justice and an advocate for sustainable agriculture with an emphasis on community-driven solutions to inequities in our food system. The discussion will be moderated by writer Sonia Chopra, executive editor of Bon Appétit, and co-executive producer of No Passport Required on PBS. To attend the event, purchase tickets at 92y.org. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to Just Food, Project EATS, and Sky High Farm.
Vegetables from Sky High Farm being prepared for distribution in New York
Dan Colen: High Noon is available for online reading from May 20 through June 19 as part of Artist Spotlight: Dan Colen. The book documents two performance pieces by the artist, Carry On Cowboy and At Least They Died Together (both 2018), and a related exhibition of Desert paintings (2015–19), presented at Gagosian, Beverly Hills. The volume features an essay by Douglas Fogle, as well as a conversation between Colen, Fogle, and choreographer Dimitri Chamblas.
Dan Colen: High Noon (New York: Gagosian, 2020)
May 20–26, 2020
Moving between diverse styles and subjects, Dan Colen investigates the conceptual stakes of materiality and mark making. Alongside explorations in unconventional mediums including chewing gum, flowers, and metal studs, he continually returns to oil painting and representation, conducting an ever-evolving inquiry into the objecthood and authority of painting as a medium.
Photo: Eric Piasecki
Matt Black × Gana Art
November 1, 2019–January 5, 2020
Gana Art Center and Gana Art Hannam, Seoul
In collaboration with filmmaker Matt Black, this exhibition is centered around his short film series titled Reflections, which features conversations with contemporary artists. Through his interviews, Black paints a picture of the rapidly changing contemporary art scene, revealing the stories behind the artworks. Following the film’s theme, Gana Art has curated this exhibition to feature works by these artists, which include Dan Colen, Rachel Feinstein, Jeff Koons, Harmony Korine, Sterling Ruby, Taryn Simon, and Blair Thurman, among others.
Installation view, Reflections: Matt Black × Gana Art, Gana Art Center and Gana Art Hannam, Seoul, November 1, 2019–January 5, 2020. Artwork © Sterling Ruby
Works from the Astrup Fearnley Collection
May 24–September 15, 2018
Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo
This exhibition of works from the Astrup Fearnley Collection will bring together a corpus of Dan Colen’s paintings (made from oil, chewing gum, confetti, flowers, and lemon juice) as well as sculpture, photographs, and film. Embodiments of moments that have taken on aesthetic form, the works present fragmented stories told in the first person about the artist and his immediate environment. They are dialogues with society and commentaries on art history that often reference political issues, mixing high and low cultural values.
Dan Colen, No Way Jose, 2008–09 © Dan Colen. Photo: Christopher Burke
October 4, 2017–January 28, 2018
Newport Street Gallery, London
This exhibition is Dan Colen’s first major solo exhibition in London and spans more than fifteen years of his art making. The show features new works, including large-scale installations, alongside significant early pieces.
Installation view, Dan Colen: Sweet Liberty, Newport Street Gallery, London, October 4, 2017–January 28, 2018. Artwork © Dan Colen. Photo by Prudence Cumings Associates Ltd © Victor Marta Ltd.
Dan Colen in
Ryan McGinley: The Kids Were Alright
February 11–August 20, 2017
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Featured in this survey of Ryan McGinley’s early work is Dan Colen’s Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors (My Friend Dash’s Wall in the Future) (2004–06/2016). This massive sculpture––the artist’s first––is also a monumental painting. Spanning almost ten feet, the freestanding work is comprised of hundreds of small oil paintings on paper or foam, each a 1:1 trompe l’oeil representation of a corresponding photograph, newspaper clipping, or object that hung in an identical position on Dash Snow’s apartment wall in the early 2000s. The apartment was a gathering place for friends and artists, among them Colen’s childhood friend Ryan McGinley.
Dan Colen, Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors (My Friend Dash’s Wall in the Future), 2004–06/2016