Leiden, the university city in the Netherlands, lays claim to being the birthplace of De Stijl. An open-air art exhibition, 100 Years After De Stijl, is being held in the courtyard of the city’s St Peter’s Church to mark a century since the beginning of the influential art and design movement.
Theo van Doesburg published the first edition of the magazine, De Stijl, which gave its name to the movement, in Leiden during 1917. Haarlemerstraat 73a remained the magazine’s administrative headquarters until 1921.
Works by 20 international artists
100 Years After De Stijl features works by 20 international artists. The exhibition is curated by Guido Winkler and Iemke van Dijk. In common with De Stijl, the works featured are abstract.
One of the best known proponents of De Stijl’s ideals, and a founding member, was Piet Mondrian. He moved to New York City in 1940, where he is buried in the Cypress Hills Cemetery. Victory Boogie Woogie, the unfinished painting that is regarded as his masterpiece, is now displayed at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.
In common with Mondrian, Rob de Oude, who is participating in 100 Years After De Stijl with the work Mural #11 (Seesaw), moved from the Netherlands to New York.
“The grid of New York, they way that is set up, has a lot to do with structure and repetition — elements that are used in De Stijl,” says De Oude.
From New York to Leiden
“I run a gallery space in Brooklyn and I’ve shown a multitude of the artists displayed here…There’s an overlap of networks and relationships that cross continents and are operating in unison in some ways,” he adds.
“This particular work is based on a mural I did in France,” says De Oude of Mural #11 (Seesaw).
“The design itself is a tessellation of one particular element that I have included in mirror-form or straight-on execution nine times. So there’s kind of a grid in there, which has a relationship to De Stijl, or course, so is the reasoning for my participation in this exhibition.”
Grids and Van Doesburg
“I use a lot of grids in my work. Grids can be straight-on or dynamic, the way Van Doesburg used them in his work…Basically there’s a top row that has the same direction, the middle row takes the opposite direction and the same direction as the top row. This creates a zig-zag, dynamic, optical illusion,” adds De Oude.
“I grew up here in the Netherlands, so De Stijl is kind of in my genes. I grew up playing on what you can consider outdoor sculpture that were playgrounds with that kind of design influence,” says the artist.
Marije Vermeulen’s measured approach
Marije Vermeulen is another of the artists participating in 100 Years After De Stijl.
“I always start with the measurements of the space that is available. This space is three metres and 33 centimetres. The first thing that I think when I see such a number is that it perfectly divides in three,” says Vermeulen.
“The outline shape you see is inspired by architecture. Look around and you’ll see the simplest decoration in architecture is often just an outline around a window or a door. These simple shapes, they accentuate the door or window. I like the simple idea that when you put an outline around something you accentuate the shape of it,” she explains.
“In this case I made three rectangles. I wanted to play with it. The secondary decoration is in the corners. It’s based on simple, conceptual ideas. It’s very important that it is neat and colourful. It’s important that there are some rules in there but I don’t want to be heavily under dogmas. It has to be cheerful and playful, that’s important to my work,” she adds with a laugh.
This outdoor exhibition is part of the programme of events being held across the Netherlands during 2017 as part of Mondrian to Dutch Design, a celebration of the influence of the De Stijl art and design movement.
100 Years After De Stijl will be displayed at Leiden’s Pieterskerkhof until 27 August 2017.
The photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.