By PAUL LASTER, Dec. 2017
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the avant-garde art and design movement De Stijl, the dynamic exhibition “Mondrian to Dutch Design” took place in 18 cities across Holland over the course of the past year—undoubtedly making it the biggest art and design show ever and certainly the best and most comprehensive cultural events of the year.
Originally a magazine founded by Theo van Doesburg in 1917, De Stijl featured the Dutch artists and designers Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck and Gerrit Rieveld, as well as a host of like-minded, international players that were directly or indirectly linked to the movement.
The arc of the exhibition took audiences from the origin of De Stijl—during the early days of modernism—to contemporary art and design that still shows the influence of the members of the movement’s distinct use of a condensed palette of colors and reductive geometric forms.
The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which houses the world’s largest collection of works by Piet Mondrian and an extensive De Stijl collection, led the charge with four major exhibitions focused on the movement and a peppy show of new work by Folkert de Jong that reflected the revolutionary idealism of the group at the GEM, the Gemeentemuseum’s contemporary art space.
Most compelling of the four shows was the spring exhibition pairing the work of Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck that explored the invention of this new art and the artists’ signature use of the colors red, yellow and blue in compelling combinations. “Discovering Mondrian,” a comprehensive display, which featured some 300 works that were produced in Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York over the course of the artist’s lifetime, followed during the summer.
On the design side, the Centraal Museum Utrecht, which possesses the world’s biggest collection of Gerrit Rietveld’s designs mounted the exhibition Rietveld’s Masterpiece; Long Live De Stijl!, which featured his famous Zig Zag Chair and Red and Blue Chair, alongside works by Bart van der Leck, Theo van Doesburg and Willem van Leusdan.
Utrecht is also home to the designer’s celebrated Rietveld Schröder House, an architectural gem that was built in the mid-1920s. Listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the house is the only building fully in line with the architectural principles of De Stijl. Featuring the vibrant use of the colors red, yellow and blue in combination with white, black and grey and sliding walls that quickly alter the living area, the innovative house is a must-see for disciples of modern architecture.
Nearby in Amersfoort, the Kunsthal KAdE presented “The Colors of De Stijl,” a survey of the the use of red, yellow and blue by an international group of modern and contemporary artists, including Josef Albers, Jasper Johns and Olafur Eliasson. Meanwhile the newly opened Mondriaanhuis, also in Amersfoort, offered “The World of Piet Mondrian,” featuring a re-creation of his studio in Paris and hi-tech media displays that illustrates his life and art, in the two-story canal house where he was born.
The Kroller-Müller Museum, one of the most beguiling Dutch art institutions with a large collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings and a lovely sculpture garden in a heart of a national forest, hosted a rare retrospective of sculptures, reliefs and works on paper by the modernist artist Jean Arp, who had collaborated with his wife Sophie Täuber and Theo van Doesburg on the De Stijl design of Café l’Aubette in Strasbourg, France, in the mid-1920s.
Other highlights the 100 Years of De Stijl celebration included “De Stijl at the Stedelijk” in Amsterdam that featured the modern masters of the movement with contemporary works by Bas Jan Ader, Isa Genzken and Roy Lichtenstein; a survey of Hungarian-born De Stijl artist Vilmos Huszár at the Stadtsmuseum Harderwijk; the outdoor exhibition “100 Years After De Stijl” with an international mix of contemporary art in Leiden; and Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, an annual event focused on designs for the future.
Smartly planned to not only give the audience an overview of Holland’s contribution to modern art and design but to also provide an introduction to the many cultural institutions spread across its inviting landscape, this sprawling show was one of the most enlightening events of the year. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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