In Basel, the Fondation Beyeler is exhibiting the Dutchman Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), one of the alchemists from figuration to abstraction. Mondrian Evolution reveals 89 works and just as many surprises.
Bookseller since 1945, gallery owner, co-founder of Art Basel 1970, Ernst Beyeler founded his foundation in 1982 with his wife Hildy. Since opening in 1997, it has been the most visited museum in Switzerland (6.5 million admissions). Renzo Piano’s Aerial Building (1997), open to the park and flooded with light, will be expanded in 2023 by a second, 1,500 square meter building by the Basel architect Peter Zumthor at the entrance to the park.
“Mondrian Evolution” consists of works from the Beyeler Collection and loans from private and public clients from all over the world. Mondrian was not a designer, he drew and painted. And yet his use of line and color pervades the entire second twentieth centurye Century: design, architecture, fashion, pop culture.
The Fondation Beyeler collection includes works from 1912 to 1938, but the exhibition begins at the beginning, influenced by late 19th-century Dutch landscape painting, Symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism, currents that run through De Stijl.
Inspired Commissioner, Ulf Kuester, is the author of a “Mondrian AZ” illustrated with the famous “Mondrian” dress by Yves Saint-Laurent, worn by models photographed in 1966 in front of the 1935 “Composition C” (No. III) of the Museum of the Den Hague. “Mondrian, he recalls, only became a master of abstraction in his fifties.” So it was a late bloomer.
In 1912 Mondrian set up his studio at 26 rue du Départ in the Montparnasse district. It really is a departure towards pure abstractionwith his “Compositions”, and characterized by the abandonment of the second “a” of his name, an asceticism of the vowel that de-Dutch and Parisianized him: Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan becomes Piet Mondrian. But the connections did not disappear: in 1917 De Stijl was born in the Netherlands, a collective associated with neoplasticism. Mondrian takes part in the eponymous review directed by Théo Van Doesburg with the painter Bart Van der Leck or the carpenter-architect Gerrit Rietveld.
The collection of the Fondation Beyeler includes works from 1912 to 1938, resp The exhibition begins at the beginninginfluenced by late 19th-century Dutch landscape paintinge Century, Symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism, currents that run through De Stijl.
Ulf Küster examines this hinge when Mondrian oscillates between landscape figuration of motifs where the line is stripped and the color intensified, and yet organic abstraction where the floors become uniform and where the line spreads and branches.
Playing with the clear perspectives of the museum, The nine rooms create skilful parallels between recurring motifs (mills, dunes, farms reflected in the water) and different degrees of abstraction.
“The Red Cloud” (1907) fixes a setting sun that paints the landscape bloody in front of a bright blue sky: the perspectives are already flattening out, two primary colors face each other. The Radicality of the Yellow and Red Fire “Moulin au soleil” (1908) caused an uproar among critics. With a look at this mill, we approach the line network of New York’s “City 1” (work from 1941) with Ulf Küster and realize that the red bands glued to the canvas are reminiscent of the red dabs of color of the “Moulin au soleil”.
Like temporal matryoshkas, some pattern repeats magically fit together: The grid of the blades of the mills suggests the later appearance of floating lines on an almost monochrome background.
“In the early 1920s he switched to a completely non-figurative imagery that was limited to orthogonal arrangements of black lines and white areas and the three primary colors blue, red and yellow.”
These marriages are a feast for the eyes: the spider-like tree leaning against a twilight sky (Soir: l’arbre rouge, 1908-1910) resonates with “Pommier en fleur” (1912) or “Tree” (1912) and on with the “Composition No. IX” (1913), a framework of angular lines and volumes drowning in a misty background. Ulf Küster thus discovers another astonishingly distant echo between the “Lighthouse of Westkapelle” (1910) and the “Blue-White Composition” (1936).
“In the early 1920s he switched to a completely abstract imagerylimited to orthogonal arrangements of black lines and white areas and the three primary colors blue, red and yellow.” Nothing dried up in this research, as the painter admits: “I build lines and color combinations on flat surfaces in order to express the general beauty with a clear conscience “. Ulf Küster affirms: He “never did any calculations, never used a ruler, only pencil lines and drew freehand” with the practiced patience of a surveyor.
These tours of Mondrian are neither hesitation nor regret, but the movements of a tireless search. In this sense, this exhibition offers an extraordinary lesson in art history, a soaring visual exercise and a source of bliss.