The architecture and interiors of De Stijl are famous around the world. Dutch architects and designers like Gerrit Rietveld, Theo van Doesburg, Cornelis van Eesteren and J.J.P. Oud blazed the trail for generations of progressive thinkers who came after them. The historical roots of De Stijl are less well-known. This summer, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and Het Nieuwe Instituut (which holds the greatest architecture collection in the world) present a marvellous overview of drawings, architectural models and examples of furniture by members of the influential art movement. Exhibited side by side for the first time ever, the works offer surprising insights: what seems simple and straightforward at first sight proves to be ambiguous and complex. And what appears new may turn out not to have been.
A statement on the cover of the art magazine De Stijl said that the aim of the journal was to further “the development of a new aesthetic sense” in order to make the public more receptive to new ideas in art.
Determinedly progressive, optimistic, unconventional and idealistic – that’s De Stijl all over. What started out as a magazine title in 1917 ended up as a worldwide icon of modernity. In 2017 the Netherlands is celebrating the centenary of De Stijl with a year-long programme of events under the banner ‘Mondrian to Dutch Design’. As the home both of the world’s greatest Mondrian collection and of one of its most wide-ranging De Stijl collections, the Gemeentemuseum is right at the heart of this year’s celebrations. Its Architecture and Interiors. The desire for Style exhibition will focus on the work of the Dutch proponents of modernist design in the applied arts field.
By exploring four themes – colour, space, transparency and technical innovation – the exhibition will trace the roots of De Stijl right back into the 19th century. It will show how much De Stijl artists and designers owed to past generations: they appropriated existing techniques and re-interpreted concepts, themes and ideas advanced by previous engineers and craftsmen. As the same time, the exhibition will also reveal differences: unlike their predecessors and contemporaries, who tended to look for functional solutions to problems, the members of De Stijl regarded art as the solution in itself.
“[Paintings] will have the power to ‘bring to life’ the planes that we, as architects, use to create emotion and to make them a vital part of the space”
The exhibition will bring together drawings, architectural models, paintings, objects and furniture by artists associated with De Stijl and show them alongside design drawings and three-dimensional objects produced in previous decades. By doing so, it will tease out the way in which members of De Stijl created a radically new formal idiom while at the same time exploiting existing techniques and materials in the implementation of their ideas. Many of the notions advanced by De Stijl architects and designers will be shown to have determined the course taken by international architecture later in the century and still to be influencing our own domestic and public lives today.