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Barnett Newman, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, 1967, painting, 245 x 543 cm, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1964, paint on canvas, assemblage, 182.5 x 478 cm, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.  Photo: Peter Cox
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The Colors of The Style

06.05.2017 - 03.09.2017

The Colors of De Stijl focuses on the use of color by De Stijl artists and shows how, in the decades following De Stijl, artists continue to investigate the autonomous power of color.

Steven Aalders
Piet Mondrian
Barnett Newman
Jan van der Ploeg
Ad Reinhardt
Gerrit Rietveld
Jeroen de Rijke | De Rijke/De Rooij |.
Willem de Rooij | De Rijke/De Rooij |.
Robert Ryman
Richard Serra
Georges Vantongerloo
Piero Manzoni
Richard Paul Lohse
Josef Albers
Alan Charlton
Theo van Doesburg
Olafur Eliasson
Poul Gernes
Vilmos Huszár
Jasper Johns
Fransje Killaars
Yves Klein
Joseph Kosuth
Bart van der Leck
Roy Villevoye

Artists: Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, Georges Vantongerloo, Vilmos Huszár, Barnett Newman, Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, Josef Albers, Richard Paul Lohse, Alan Charlton, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Serra, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Ryman, Piero Manzoni, Poul Gernes, Fransje Killaars, Mater Mater, Roy Villevoye, Olafur Eliasson, Steven Aalders, Jeroen de Rijke | De Rijke/De Rooij |, Willem de Rooij | De Rijke/De Rooij |, Jan van der Ploeg

Artists: Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, Georges Vantongerloo, Vilmos Huszár, Barnett Newman, Josef Albers, Richard Paul Lohse, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Robert Ryman, Piero Manzoni, Alan Charlton, Richard Serra, Joseph Kosuth, Poul Gernes, Olafur Eliasson, De Rijke/De Rooij, Katja Mater, Jan van der Ploeg, Steven Aalders, Roy Villevoye, Fransje Killaars

Red. Yellow. Blue. The three primary colors became the "face" of the De Stijl artists' movement. However, as archetypal as red, yellow and blue seem for the movement, the ideas of its various members were ultimately diverse. Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, Georges Vantongerloo and Vilmos Huszár each formulated their own color vision.

Kunsthal KAdE zooms in on the use of color by the six protagonists of De Stijl and then looks further into how artists after WWII continued to investigate the autonomous power of color: via abstract expressionism and concrete art in the 1960s and '70s to contemporary artists exploring color as an independent element. Items on loan from the Stedelijk Museum include "Who's Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue III" by Barnett Newman and the triptych "Untitled" by Jasper Johns. From the Van Abbemuseum include the model of Theo van Doesburg's color design for the Great Hall of café/theater 'Aubette' in Strasbourg and works by Piero Manzoni, Richard Serra and Joseph Kosuth. From the studio of Olafur Eliasson comes the light installation "Ephemeral afterimage star" (2008).

The exhibition is part of the national theme year "Mondrian to Dutch Design," which commemorates the founding of the magazine De Stijl in The Hague, Amersfoort, Utrecht, Otterlo, Eindhoven, North Netherlands and Gelderland. 'The Colors of De Stijl' will be on view from May 6 to September 3, 2017.

Color as an autonomous element 'out of art'

The starting point of the exhibition is a series of cabinets addressing the diverse positions of the De Stijl artists. Mondrian went through various stages of color use: from naturalistic to luminous to brown/gray to pastel shades to primary colors to a richer palette of shades of red, yellow and blue. Van Doesburg saw color as an essential means of visualizing an architect's spatial ambitions. Huszár adhered to the theories of the chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who considered the blending of white and black important to achieve "harmony" (published in the journal De Stijl in 1920, among others). Other Stijl artists also followed Ostwald's ideas for short or long periods of time. Van der Leck saw color primarily as a means of making his figure pieces more "essential. Vantongerloo developed his own color theory, in which he intertwined color and music theory via pseudo-mathematical formulas and arrived at a system of seven colors. For Rietveld, color had a subservient and supporting role, in which he considered the perception of the observer important and his ability to see the primary colors most strongly.

What the artists had in common is that they sought color as an autonomous element 'from art' and not 'from nature' and from the idea that the coherence of colors would lead to 'harmony'. This inquisitive and analytical view of 'color' by the neoplastics was followed up a lot after the heyday of De Stijl.

In addition to important sample works by the selected artists, the exhibition features documents on the color concepts of the artists in question, ranging from drawings and letters to texts and books and examples of color theories on which they based or relied. These include the color theory of Wilhelm Ostwald.

Two cabinets focus on specific designs: the interior of theater/restaurant Aubette in Strasbourg (1928) by Theo van Doesburg and designs for aircraft interiors by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1950s. For the latter section, a sketch by Rietveld for the lounge area of a Lockheed L-188 Electra will be built 1:1 by furniture maker Erwin Kwant.

Masterpiece 'Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III'

The segment on the post-World War II period begins with Barnett Newman's masterpiece "Who's Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue III" from the Stedelijk Museum. Newman wanted to free primary colors from the "yoke" of De Stijl and others. He wanted the colors to become expressive again rather than didactic. Newman particularly found Mondrian's work decorative . Because the neoplastics had seized on primary colors, the abstract expressionists shunned their use. Newman appropriated the colors again.
Surrounding Newman are Josef Albers and Richard Paul Lohse - important theorists on color who have been particularly influential among artists - in addition to Yves Klein with his patented color blue.


The exhibition continues with the conceptual positions toward color in the 1960s and 1970s with artists such as Piero Manzoni and Robert Ryman (for whom "white" was central, partly as an objective "non-color"), Alan Charlton ("gray" as the most neutral color), Richard Serra (intense black as an "architectural" element) and Joseph Kosuth (the definition of color). This block concludes with the work of the Danish artist Poul Gernes, who in his color studies searched for the social significance of artistic expressions, expressed, among other things, in exuberant color schemes for the walls of the Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen (1968-'76).

Contemporary artists

The final part of the exhibition looks at contemporary artists. Olafur Eliasson shows a light installation in which mixing colors with light plays the main role. Eliasson is fascinated by "spectral colors," which one encounters in natural phenomena such as the rainbow, among others. In the video cabinet is the media installation 'Orange' by De Rijke/De Rooij, in which they address the problem of capturing orange on celluloid through 88 slide images. Katja Mater is fascinated by Isaac Newton's color theory, in which light breaks down into seven colors. At the same time, she is fascinated by the phenomenon that rotating color circles lead to colored "mixtures" (in an optimal situation, the colors "melt" into white). Mater repeats experiments that have been done before in the history of color theory, but with her it is more of a deconstruction process. Mater is staying as artist in residence for the exhibition in early 2017 at the studio home of Theo van Doesburg in Meudon, a suburb of Paris.

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Steven Aalders works with tightly ordered compositions of horizontal and vertical lines and blocks, which he builds up from specific color schemes for each series, mostly borrowed from examples from art history. Jan van der Ploeg creates monumental murals with repeating geometric patterns in highly pronounced colors. Roy Villevoye, finally, takes an anthropological position. He has traveled to Papua New Guinea for many years, working with the indigenous people there and, among other things, hooks into a t-shirt ritual within their culture. Three Papuans pose in shirts in the print colors of magenta, cyan and yellow. A clash of cultures with colors that are ubiquitous in the Western world but do not exist in the jungle. The Papuans don't even have a word for color.

Style Year, Amersfoort-Utrecht cooperation

The exhibition "The Colors of De Stijl" is organized as part of the theme year "Mondrian to Dutch Design," a nationwide campaign in Amersfoort, Utrecht, The Hague, Eindhoven, Otterlo, Drachten and Winterswijk, among others. 

The cities of Amersfoort and Utrecht have formed their own partnerships within the total. The NBTC is closely involved in international promotion. After Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, Mondrian is one of the three new focal points for international promotion (alongside Escher and Miffy). All municipalities involved in the Style Year are making a financial contribution to this international promotion program. The program in the Utrecht region includes 'The Colors of De Stijl' at Kunsthal KAdE (summer 2017), the conversion of the Mondrian House in Amersfoort into a Mondrian Experience (opening March 7, 2017), the exhibition 'Rietveld's Masterpiece' at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht (spring 2017, on the Rietveld-Schröder House), a presentation on Rietveld's pavilions at the Rietveld Pavilion in Amersfoort (fall 2017) and an exhibition on Dutch Design at the Centraal Museum (fall 2017). Work is also underway on the marking of a special express cycle path between Utrecht and Amersfoort, based on the motif of De Stijl.

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Catalog The Colors of De Stijl

The exhibition "The Colors of De Stijl" is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog. With texts by Robbert Roos, Marjory Degen and Nynke Besemer. With an introduction to the various color theories of Goethe, Ostwald and Newton written by Marjory Degen. The exhibition and catalog are divided into three sections: artists of de Stijl, postwar artists and contemporary artists. The catalog also appears in English.

The catalog is on sale in the KAdEShop for 15 euros.
96 pages
ISBN : 978-94-90153-25-0

Thanks to: Kwant Furniture Making, Furniture Upholstery Design Upholstery, De Ploeg upholstery fabrics, all partners, artists, loaners, gallery owners.

Partner: The New Institute

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27.01.2024 - 28.07.2024

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