Re-Inventing Piet.

Mondrian and the Consequences

11. 3. — 16. 7. 2023

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From clothing and cosmetics packaging to watches, T‑shirts, bags, and even entire façades of buildings—who is not familiar with the catchy and quickly recogniz­able design of everyday objects which are based as uninhi­bi­tedly and bluntly appro­priate the abstract compo­si­tions of one of the most important artists of the twentieth century: Piet Mondrian. Time and again, he called for art and life to be linked; and indeed, his works and their varia­tions have visually invaded countless areas of life. Based on works from his most important creative period, the exhibi­tion offers an insight into the multi­fa­ceted explo­ra­tion of Piet Mondrian’s main neoplastic work through around 150 artworks and objects.

Like hardly anyone else, Piet Mondrian (Amers­foort, Nether­lands 1872 – 1944 New York, USA) managed within a few years to break away from figura­tive painting and develop a trend-setting abstract style which, in his extensive art-theore­tical writings, he called “New Plastic” or “Neo-Plasti­cism.” Mondrian’s osten­sibly simple compo­si­tions of initially black lines with colored rectan­gles on a white, light blue, or gray ground did nothing less than revolu­tio­nize the artworld. And although his Neo-Plastic works were difficult for many to access, no other artistic position in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been cited, copied, varied, appro­priated, adapted, or satirized as often and in as many ways as Piet Mondrian’s—by fashion, adver­ti­sing, archi­tec­ture, design, and—above all—by art itself. With some 150 artworks and objects, the exhibi­tion Re-Inventing Piet. Mondrian and the Conse­quences provides insight into the multi­fa­ceted explo­ra­tion of Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic main work. A selection of works by Piet Mondrian from the period 1913–1936 is on display in a central rotunda.

The parti­ci­pa­tory project “Bring your own Mondrian,” in which all visitors are invited to bring “Mondri­analia” from their own environ­ment, reveals already at the beginning of the exhibi­tion the diversity of adapt­ations and the commer­cial appro­pria­tion of “the Mondrian brand.” As early as the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent’s famous cocktail dresses helped popula­rize his work and influence many areas of life, bringing Mondrian’s ideas to the public eye. With her work, Sylvie Fleury thema­tizes the rise to luxury in the fashion industry.

Numerous examples from the Dutch environ­ment of the De Stijl-Movement, to which Mondrian also belonged, pay testimony to the fact that, in the 1910s, fellow artists such as Bart van der Leck, Theo van Doesburg, and Gerrit Rietveld were also striving for new forms of design. In Paris, Mondrian later parti­ci­pated in the Construc­ti­vist-oriented artist associa­tions Cercle et Carré, which also included Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Jean Gorin, and Kurt Schwit­ters, and Abstrac­tion-Création, which included Marlow Moss and Władysław Strze­miński. After emigra­ting to the United States in 1940, Mondrian met Lee Krasner, with whom he shared a prefe­rence for jazz and the idea of rhythm in painting.

The subse­quent reception of Mondrian’s ground­brea­king compo­si­tions and his influence on later genera­tions of artists is presented in the exhibi­tion under various aspects. Works by Hal Busse, Mary Heilmann, Sarah Morris, and François Morellet/Tadashi Kawamata, for example, are situated in the field of tension between construc­tion and decon­struc­tion. Using different strate­gies and within the framework of their own indivi­dual artistic expres­sion, a number of artists deal with Mondrian in a construc­tive, adaptive, or citational way. Examples of Mondrian adapt­ations from the field of archi­tec­ture (by Yacoov Agam, among others) are presented via projec­tions in one of the museum’s east cabinets.

The chapter focusing on recon­struc­tions offers a selection of works that either recreate concrete images by Mondrian in two or three dimen­sions or are worked in Mondrian’s style: In reference to Mondrian’s last phase of work, Tom Sachs’s picture consists entirely of adhesive tape, and Gregor Hildebrandt’s precisely recon­structed “Mondrians” are made of audio tapes in various colors. The “plywood paintings” by Mathieu Mercier, deliber­ately sloppy in both material and painterly execution, represent a deliber­ately ironic, subver­sive confrontation.

The title of Dennis Oppenheim’s sculpture is also subver­si­vely provo­ca­tive, sugges­ting that it is an “exploded Mondrian.” From a formal as well as cultural distance, Remy Jungerman engages with Mondrian by combining his modernist aesthetic with references to Maroon culture and with West African elements, while at the same time questio­ning the Western canon of art. In a radical icono­clastic gesture, Iván Argote takes action in his short video when he seeminly covers two famous paintings at the Centre Pompidou in Paris with spray paint, thus questio­ning the value of art.

Under the aspect of reflec­tion and reception, Joseph Kosuth approa­ches Mondrian’s paintings on a concep­tual level by quoting various state­ments from Mondrian’s writings within a typical Neo-Plastic mesh of lines. Claudia Angel­meier and Melissa Gordon also delve deeply into the history of reception by referring to the secondary litera­ture on Mondrian. Jörg Sasse’s photo­graphy traces the migration of Mondrian borro­wings in the design of everyday objects of the postwar period.

The success story of Piet Mondrian’s Neo-Plastic art lies mainly in the osten­sibly simple and at the same time easily recogniz­able combi­na­tion of rectan­gular design struc­tures and the limita­tion to the three primary colors red, yellow, and blue. In terms of cognitive psycho­logy, it seems to be suffi­cient to see Mondria­nesque “pictures” in certain constel­la­tions of color and form, as can be seen, for example, in the works of John Bodin, Philippe Calia, and Saul Leiter.

The exhibi­tion Re-Inventing Piet. Mondrian and the Conse­quences is accom­pa­nied by a compre­hen­sive and richly illus­trated publi­ca­tion (approx. 300 pages, 300 illus­tra­tions), edited by Andreas Beitin and René Zechlin and published by Verlag der Buchhand­lung Walther König, Cologne. The German/English edition, designed by the Berlin-based Studio S/M/L, includes an intro­duc­tion by Andreas Beitin and text contri­bu­tions by Friedrich von Borries, Nancy J. Troy, Wolfgang Ullrich, and Marek Wieczorek. Available for 39 € in the museum shop or at kunstmuseum.de/shop.

Concept and curator
Andreas Beitin

Co-curator
Elena Engelbrechter

Curato­rial Assistant
Carla Wiggering

Mathieu Mercier, Still Untitled, 2000, Sperr­holz­platte, Ölfarbe, Farbfolie, Isolier­band, 58 x 50 cm, Privat­samm­lung,© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022, Foto: Privatsammlung

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