Colors of De Stijl Artists at Kunsthal Kade
May 29, 2017
This year marks an extraordinary milestone for the Netherlands: the 100th anniversary of the founding of the art movement De Stijl. De Stijl artists sought to reduce visual composition to its most basic elements in order to express universalities. They defined those basic elements as horizontal and vertical lines and a simplified palette consisting of only black, white, and primary colors. The term De Stijl, which means the style in Dutch, was first used as the title of a magazine. Published by the artist Theo van Doesburg, the magazine debuted in October of 1917, and was used as a platform for the ideas of Doesburg and a small group of like-minded artists. (The University of Iowa has uploaded the first three years of De Stijl magazine—37 issues—online for free.) The De Stijl movement resulted in one of the most influential abstract aesthetic positions of the 20th Century, and its principals and theories remain influential to many artists, designers and architects today. To memorialize the birth of the movement, the government of the Netherlands has planned a countrywide celebration, called 100 Years of De Stijl – Mondrian to Dutch Design. Among the special events planned are a three-day concert in Leiden, the birthplace of De Stijl magazine; the reopening of the Mondriaanhuis, a museum in Anersfoort in the building whereDe Stijl artist Piet Mondrian was born (the In the Footsteps of Mondrian tour includes a visit to the museum and a two course meal that ends with a slice of Mondrian-inspired cake); and a multitude of special exhibitions throughout the country. One particularly fascinating exhibition opened on 3 May at Kunsthal KAdE museum in Amersfoort. Called The Colors of De Stijl, it features an ambitious selection of works by dozens of artists, including pioneers of the movement such as Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, as well as mid-20th Century artists who were inspired by their ideas, such as Josef Albers and Barnett Newman, and contemporary artists who continue to explore their philosophies today.
The Colors of De Stijl
Laying the groundwork for its comprehensive overview of the De Stijl legacy, The Colors of De Stijl begins by examining the work of the artists who pioneered what became known as the De Stijl aesthetic. Their works are organized in a series of intimate gallery spaces. First up is a gallery tracing the evolution of the palette of Piet Mondrian, from the muted, natural tones he used in his early abstract paintings to the pure hues of yellow, red and blue for which he ultimately became known. Next is a gallery devoted to the works of Theo van Doesburg, a key early ally of Piet Mondrian who later, however, became a bitter rival after arguments over what now seem like minor aesthetic details. Next comes a gallery devoted to the Hungarian painter Vilmos Huszár, who, like Van Doesburg, made works that attempted to explore the experimental color theories of German chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald.
After those three pioneers, visitors are treated to a series of galleries devoted to three perhaps lesser-known De Stijl artists: Bart van der Leck, a key proponent of the study of color as an independent subject; Belgian-born sculptor Georges Vantongerloo, whose ideas about the connections between color and music were related to a mathematical formula of his own invention; and Dutch architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld, creator of the Zig Zag Chair, a perfect manifestation of his belief in the power of primary colors to direct human perception toward forms. Of special note in this section of the exhibition are the many supporting items, including a design Theo van Doesburg created in 1928 for the Aubette cinema in Strasbourg, and a 3-D model of the design Gerrit Rietveld created in the 1950s for the lounge of a Lockheed L-188 Electra aircraft.
Theo van Doesburg, design interior dance hall L’Aubette, Strassbourg (1928) reconstruction 1968, scale 1 : 5 (detail). Collection Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, photo by Peter Cox
The Influence of De Stijl
The second section of The Colors of De Stijl expands the study of De Stijl by examining the work of mid-century artists influenced by the ideas of De Stijl pioneers. For example, on view is the monumental Barnett Newman painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, on loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, as well as an untitled triptych by Jasper Johns and a selection of Yves Klein works painted with International Klein Blue. Also highlighted are works by Robert Ryman and Piero Mazoni exploring the color white, works by Alan Charlton exploring the color grey, works by Richard Serra exploring the color black, and works by Poul Gernes, who used color as a method of exploring the social relevance of art.
Finally, the last section of the exhibition features works by contemporary artists influenced by De Stijl. Among other works, this section includes a light installation by Olafur Eliasson, a multi-media installation by De Rijke/De Rooij, and new works by the Dutch artist Katja Mater, who recently concluded a residency in Paris in the former home of Theo van Doesburg. Seeing the work of all of these other artists in context with the De Stijl pioneers elucidates beautifully the common denominator that has had such a profound effect on art, architecture and design over the past 100 years: color as a subject, and the belief that color relationships can produce a sense of universal harmony.
Olafur Eliasson, Ephermeral Afterimage Star, 2008. Courtesy: the artist
The Colors of De Stijl at Kunsthal KAdE runs through to 3 September 2017, and includes works by Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo, Gerrit Rietveld, Vilmos Huszár, Josef Albers, Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Richard Paul Lohse, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Serra, Olafur Eliasson, Jan van der Ploeg, Katja Mater, Roy Villevoye, Steven Aalders, Fransje Killaars, and many others.
Featured image: Barnett Newman - Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, 1967, 245x543cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. C/o Pictoright
All images used for illustrative purposes only
By Phillip Barcio