Style cen­tral in The Hague

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - VIC­TO­RIA TROTT

“When Piet Mon­drian died in 1944, the Amer­i­can press wrote that one of the great­est artists of the 20th cen­tury had passed away — even though the cen­tury was less than half gone.” I am sit­ting in the grand re­cep­tion area of the aus­tere art deco Ge­meen­te­mu­seum in The Hague lis­ten­ing to the mu­seum’s di­rec­tor, Benno Tem­pel, ex­tol the virtues of one of The Nether­lands’ most fa­mous sons.

This year marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the De Stijl (The Style) art move­ment, a col­lec­tive of for­ward-look­ing, so­lu­tion-seek­ing Dutch artists, de­sign­ers and ar­chi­tects whose best-known ex­po­nent was Mon­drian.

To cel­e­brate, a host of events will be tak­ing place in as­so­ci­ated towns and cities across its coun­try of ori­gin through­out 2017.

Since the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum owns the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Mon­dri­ans, The Hague is host­ing three in­ter­na­tion­ally im­por­tant De Stijl ex­hi­bi­tions, be­gin­ning with Piet Mon­drian and Bart van der Leck — In­vent­ing a new art (un­til May 21).

This world pre­miere, fea­tur­ing works on loan from MoMa and the Solomon R. Guggen­heim Mu­seum in New York, ex­plores how the two artists worked to­gether and in­flu­enced each other to pro­duce the now in­stantly recog­nis­able ab­stract paint­ings fea­tur­ing blue, red and yel­low blocks and black hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lines.

Stand­ing in front of van der Leck’s Com­po­si­tion No 8, 1917, which for me seems to be the piv­otal work in the artists’ devel­op­ment, I ask the mu­seum’s head of col­lec­tions, Doede Harde­man, what makes Mon­drian such an im­por­tant artist. He replies, “There is no other artist in the world where you see the step-by-step devel­op­ment of his art. Mon­drian’s work is very con­stant; all of his ex­per­i­ments are work­ing to­wards his goal, which was to search in his art for the core of our be­ing. His work is so rel­e­vant to­day, so cru­cial in the devel­op­ment of con­tem­po­rary art, and as far as I am con­cerned there is no other artist as time­less as Mon­drian.”

The star ex­hi­bi­tion will be The Dis­cov­ery of Mon­drian (June 3 to Septem­ber 24), which will see all 300 of the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum’s Mon­dri­ans on dis­play, from his colour­ful early land­scapes to his un­fin­ished Vic­tory Boo­gie Woo­gie, along with let­ters, pho­to­graphs, per­sonal pos­ses­sions in­clud­ing his jazz record col­lec­tion, and a re­con­struc­tion of his Paris stu­dio. Run­ning along­side will be Ar­chi­tec­ture and In­te­ri­ors — The De­sire for Style (June 10 to Septem­ber 17), ex­plor­ing the themes of colour, space, trans­parency and tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion in the work of De Stijl de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Ger­rit Ri­etveld, who ap­pro­pri­ated ex­ist­ing tech­niques and rein­ter­preted con­cepts, themes and ideas of their pre­de­ces­sors to cre­ate a new id­iom that con­tin­ues to in­flu­ence do­mes­tic and pub­lic life to­day.

The Hague, the third largest city in The Nether­lands, is a great place to spend a few days, not least be­cause ac­com­mo­da­tion is cheaper than in Am­s­ter­dam or Rot­ter­dam. Home to a royal palace and the Dutch par­lia­ment, along with a clus­ter of ex­quis­ite art gal­leries — in­clud­ing the Mau­rit­shuis, where you’ll find Ver­meer’s Girl With A Pearl Ear­ring — the bour­geois city has a charm­ing old quar­ter filled with hip bou­tiques and cosy cafes as well as a sea­side re­sort, Schevenin­gen, a few kilo­me­tres to the north. Un­sur­pris­ingly, The Hague has em­braced the cel­e­bra­tions. From De Stijl ar­chi­tec­ture walks in the Seg­broek district to Mon­drian-de­sign socks in the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum shop and from a Mon­drian-in­spired meal at the five-star Grand Ho­tel Am­rath Kurhaus in Schevenin­gen to the artist’s favourite boo­gie woo­gie mu­sic at the Jazz in the Canal fes­ti­val in Au­gust, you’ll never look at blue, red and yel­low in the same way again. • den­haag.com • hol­land.com

King WillemAlexan­der of The Nether­lands, top, at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, above; Mon­drian’s Evening; The Red Tree (1908-1910), above right

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