If Piet Mondrian was the star of the De Stijl artistic movement – or the tree that hides the forest, as Tate Modern director Vincente Todolí said in a recent speech – Theo van Doesburg was the one hidden by the forest of an American vision of De Stijl which focused on Mondrian and Neoplasticism. Tate Modern’s forthcoming show Van Doesburg & the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World tries to re-evaluate the contribution of van Doesburg ‘as the loudspeaker, mouth-piece and advocator of De Stijl; the international promoter not only of Mondrian, but of all avant-garde movements during the 1920s’, says independent curator Gladys Fabre.
The exhibition, curated in collaboration with the Netherland’s Stedelijk De Lakenhal museum, reveals that De Stijl was not a rigid and homogenous entity, but an open movement composed of strong personalities, says Fabre. Van Doesburg instituted an elementary and artistic language based on simple geometric forms – universal in that it was understandable by everybody and could be applied in all disciplines. He designed a new alphabet in 1919, contributed to a new concept of architecture which deconstructed the Modernist cube, and introduced a new cultural and aesthetic consciousness expressing the progress of science – the arts, like life, should be continuously in evolution.
Structured chronologically, the exhibition features more than 350 works, including van Doesburg’s rarely seen Counter-Composition paintings and designs for the Café Aubette in Strasbourg, as well as typography, magazines, stained glass, film, music, sculpture and furniture. ‘We hope the visitor will be impressed by the dynamism, the creativity and the will to participate in the construction of a new world,’ says Fabre. ‘From the small details of everyday life, as seen in the example of a page of typography, to van Doesburg’s main contribution in architecture.’Van Doesburg & the International Avant-Garde is on at Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1, from 4 February to 16 May