Visiting the Netherlands? It is difficult not to come across primary colours red, blue, yellow – as well as white and black. In case you missed it – despite all the sales and merchandising going on: the Netherlands celebrates Mondriaan Year.
Mondriaan? Piet or Pieter (pronounced like Peter) Mondriaan was a Dutch artist who played an important role in the Dutch artistic movement called De Stijl, or The Style. Mondriaan was born in 1872 and died during the Second World War.
So what is commemorated, celebrated?
A century ago, De Stijl as movement and journal was founded in Leiden. This movement flourished between 1917 and 1931. Members of the movement aimed at abstraction, simple compositions, the use of primary colours and black and white. The movement certainly did not limit itself to painting and drawing, but also influenced applied arts, architecture, and many other fields.
In various places with links to Mondriaan and The Style, exhibitions take place this year. These include exhibitions at the modern art Kröller-Müller Museum, the Mondriaan House in Amersfoort, and the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht.
At The Hague, its Gemeentemuseum prides itself on owning the largest collection of works by Piet Mondriaan. So no surprise, the town’s promotion and tourist department as well as the Gemeentemuseum joined the Piet Mondriaan band wagon.
A preceding exhibition at this museum, highlighted the influence another painter had on Mondriaan’s creative development. Van der Leck experimented with painting simple compositions, bare essentials and the use of red, blue, yellow, white and black – long before Mondriaan tried these out. Van der Leck’s art stimulated and influenced Mondriaan.
The current Mondriaan exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum exhibits all his works from this museum’s collection. The exhibition also shows personal belongings like photos, letters, disks. The Guardian decided to dedicate a review to it. A review so “excellent”, its mistakes made me wonder if its reviewer had bothered to visit the town, the museum, its Mondriaan exhibition at all.
All the advertisements and hype made me expect an impressive, overwhelming exhibition.
What the exhibition certainly shows is how Mondriaan developed from an ordinary painter into a modern abstract boogie-woogie one. An artist who adopted van der Leck’s style and use of red, yellow, blue, black and white – to make these his own trademark.
This was my problem with what I saw.
This exhibition perfectly shows how Mondriaan “discovered”.
It illustrates how he picked whatever style was en vogue at the time and adapted himself and his art to it.
Jan Toorop and his daughter Charley Toorop selling and making waves? Here is Mondriaan using their styles and not impressing one bit. Vincent van Gogh’s use of colours and style being rediscovered, reappraised? Picasso being blue, abstract? Here is Mondriaan trying out and adapting – or should one say copying, imitating them all.
This “Discovery of Mondriaan” caused a total, utter disenchantment with Mondriaan, his many styles, his art. What a disgusting hype!
So after wandering through this exhibition, I quickly left for the one opposite. Now here was a truly interesting exhibition – the Guardian reviewer totally missed. Contrary to “The Discovery of Mondriaan”, it impressed, fascinated, captivated!
Gemeentemuseum The Hague, “The Discovery of Mondriaan” can be visited till 24th of September 2017.
If like me, you become disenchanted with Mondriaan – or are not even interested in him and his art: don’t despair.
The Gemeentemuseum contains several exhibitions. You may also want to visit the Photography Museum or the Museon – on either side of the Gemeentemuseum. The Hague has over thirty museums, including the Museum Meermanno, Escher Museum, Museum Bredius, and Mauritshuis.
Youtube sales and promotion video to the exhibition “Discovery of Mondriaan”
Guardian’s Jonathan Jones: “The oblong and winding road“