press release

For the very first time in Belgium, this exhibition gives an overview of the multifaceted oeuvre of the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg, key figure of the artistic movement De Stijl. The multidisciplinary oeuvre of Piet Mondrian’s artistic ally is presented within the context of the most important international artistic trends he was involved in. With works by artists such as Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Kurt Schwitters, Georges Vantongerloo, Hans Arp, El Lissitzky, Victor Servranckx, Gerrit Rietveld, César Domela, Jean Hélion and Karel Maes.

The Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) worked as an artist, poet, writer, typographer, art theoretician, interior designer and architect. He started out with a decidedly multidisciplinary approach: he envisaged an art which intervened in all aspects of life and pursued the idea of the ‘total work of art’.

During the First World War he was involved in the beginnings of one of Europe’s most important artistic movements, De Stijl. In 1917 van Doesburg founded the art periodical of the same name, surrounding himself with like-minded artists, architects and designers: Piet Mondrian was undoubtedly the most well-known, but Bart van der Leck, J.J.P. Oud, Vilmos Huszár, Gerrit Rietveld and Georges Vantongerloo were also members of this collective.

De Stijl, also known as Neo-Plasticism, was all about an abstract geometric form language, characterised by the use of basic elements such as squares oblongs and the use of horizontal and vertical lines. The colour palette was restricted to primary colours such as blue, yellow and red and neutral colours such as white, black and grey. While the artists initially depicted reality according to the principles of De Stijl, they moved towards a form language of pure, autonomous, abstract forms. This new form language didn’t just manifest itself in the visual arts, but also in other domains such as architecture, design, film, typography and graphic design.

The members of De Stijl, spurred on by van Doesburg, worked towards a radical reformation of art, in interaction with society, science and technology. They dedicated themselves to the creation of an international style which would no longer be an expression of the individual but which would represent the universal. After the chaos and division of the First World War, there was a need for a new art which would lead to a new and better world. At the same time van Doesburg was interested in the latest developments in technology and science and was, for example, highly intrigued by Einstein’s theory of relativity which enabled him to explore the concept of space-time. At this time interaction between art, technology and science was a visionary concept.

Under the dynamic leadership of Theo van Doesburg the ideas of De Stijl rapidly spread throughout Europe. He emerged as an energetic key figure of the European avant-garde. Van Doesburg was not a bohemian artist who worked in the solitude of his studio, au contraire. He wanted to exchange ideas, inspire and be inspired. During his short, but intense artistic existence he founded two magazines– De Stijl and Mécano - and various artistic groups. As a missionary van Doesburg travelled around proclaiming his innovative ideas and surrounded himself with sympathisers. He took part in congresses, wrote pamphlets, organised exhibitions and encouraged exchanges of ideas with other artists.

According to Gladys C. Fabre, curator of the exhibition, he was simply the right man in the right place. He was in the neutral Netherlands during the war where De Stijl was born in Leiden in 1917. During a stay in Paris in 1920 he joined the international art collective La Section d’Or (Archipenko, Marthes Donas, Gleizes etc.). That same year he found himself in Berlin where he was intrigued by the graphic work and films of the Dadaists Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter. In 1921he moved to Weimar where Bauhaus was creating a furore. Van Doesburg infiltrated the Bauhaus movement and infected the students and teachers with his radical ideas, not entirely to the taste of founder Walter Gropius. During the Dusseldorf Congress of Progressive Artists (May 1922) he came into contact with the Russian Constructivist El Lissitzky, the Hungarian artist Moholy-Nagy and the Belgian painter Karel Maes. As of 1923 he settled in France, where he established the art collective Concrete Art in1930 that evolved into Abstraction-Création (1931-1936) a few years before his death.

Van Doesburg’s radical, flamboyant personality and constantly evolving vision meant that he regularly entered into conflict with other artists and that the relations he had forged frequently came under pressure. Once he had written a new artist’s manifesto he was often the first to question its presupposed rules. His friendship with Mondrian cooled off when van Doesburg wanted to introduce a greater dynamic in his work by means of diagonal compositions (Contra-compositions). This formed the basis for the new artistic trend Elementarism.

Van Doesburg’s revolutionary vision, his multidisciplinary aesthetic, his taste for dialogue and confrontation and his committed activism contributed to the worldwide acknowledgement and spread of The New Plastic Art and avantgarde art in general.