The Hague is back in de Stijl

At 100th an­niver­sary, mu­se­ums squarely cel­e­brate Mon­drian

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY DIANE DANIEL

You might no­tice it from the high­way, in the form of a high-rise sport­ing a col­or­ful grid on its ex­te­rior, or per­haps next to the train sta­tion, where the Hamp­shire Ho­tel Baby­lon shows off a flashy fa­cade. Look far­ther, and bits of bold red, yellow and blue can be found splashed around this but­ton-down city known mostly for its dig­ni­fied em­bassies and gov­ern­ment build­ings. The col­or­ful geo­met­ric pat­terns cel­e­brate the work of Dutch painter Piet Mon­drian and the 100th an­niver­sary of de Stijl (the Style), the mod­ern art move­ment he and oth­ers launched.

While Mon­drian is over­shad­owed by more­fa­mous Dutch artists Vin­cent van Gogh and Rem­brandt van Rijn, he was con­sid­ered a leader of mod­ern art by the time he moved to New York City in 1940. (He died there in 1944, at age 71, and is buried at Cy­press Hills Ceme­tery in New York City.) Us­ing geo­met­ric shapes, flat planes of pri­mary col­ors and hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal lines, Mon­drian and his co­horts, in­clud­ing famed ar­chi­tect Ger­rit Ri­etveld, went on to in­flu­ence ar­chi­tec­ture, furni- ture, fash­ion and ad­ver­tis­ing.

The Hague’s Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, which al­ready holds the world’s largest Mon­drian col­lec­tion, is the fo­cus of a year-long na­tional pro­gram, “Mon­drian to Dutch De­sign: 100 years of de Stijl.” Smaller shows and events are be­ing held na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing Ri­etveld ex­hibits in the ar­chi­tect’s home­town of Utrecht.

This sum­mer, the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, decked out in swatches of Mon­drian hues, will dis­play its cache for the first time, spot­light­ing more than 300 works rep­re­sent­ing ev­ery stage in the artist’s ex­ten­sive ca­reer. The “Dis­cov­ery of Mon­drian” ret­ro­spec­tive runs from June 3 un­til Sept. 24. Ear­lier this year, the smaller, but in­sight­ful, show “Piet Mon­drian and Bart van der Leck: In­vent­ing a New Art,’’ fo­cused on the two pain­ters whose friend­ship helped spark a move­ment.

Re­gard­less of which special ex­hibits are run­ning at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, view­ers can al­ways see Mon­drian’s “Vic­tory Boo­gie Woo­gie,” a frol­ick­ing com­po­si­tion of col­ors and

At The Hague City Hall, the “world’s largest Mon­drian paint­ing” her­alds a year-long na­tional pro­gram.

lines on a di­a­mond-shaped can­vas that is con­sid­ered one of the 20th cen­tury’s most im­por­tant works. Mon­drian died be­fore he fin­ished the piece — you can still see pieces of tape stuck to cer­tain parts. For years, the paint­ing, in­spired by his pas­sion for boo­gie-woo­gie mu­sic and dance, was in a pri­vate Amer­i­can col­lec­tion. In 1998, it was bought by a Dutch art foun­da­tion for about $40 mil­lion and is in the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion.

Mon­drian’s de­signs also have lived on in com­mer­cial uses, from L’Oreal hair prod­ucts to an iconic 1966 Yves Saint Lau­rent cock­tail dress. Hague-based de­signer Michael Bar­naart van Ber­gen has spun his own ver­sion of the mod dress, which is on sale at the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum gift shop for about $250 — a bar­gain com­pared with the orig­i­nal, which went for $47,000 at auc­tion in 2011.

Ven­tur­ing out from the mu­seum into the city, vis­i­tors can find ev­i­dence of a Mon­drian meta­mor­pho­sis, es­pe­cially at City Hall, home to the “world’s largest Mon­drian paint­ing.” The ex­te­rior of the gleam­ing, white com­plex, which was de­signed by Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Richard Meier, has been adorned in red, yellow and blue strips of ad­he­sive foil. In the same com­plex, the tourist in­for­ma­tion cen­ter is decked out in the same col­ors and sells Mon­dri­anthemed gifts.

At the nearby Hofvi­jver, a small lake with a walk­ing path in front of the Dutch par­lia­ment, 14 pon­toon cubes of pri­mary col­ors float in an­other trib­ute to the artist.

Sev­eral shop­ping streets have got­ten in on the act, partly as­sisted by the city, which pro­vided 850 “Mon­drian tool­kits” with signs and re­mov­able col­ored foil for win­dow dress­ing. One of the most fes­tive streets is Fred­erik Hen­drik­laan, near the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum, where it seems that most of the stores are dec­o­rated.

One of the most lively — out­side and in — is Kikke Spulle “Fred” (No. 198), a life­style and decor shop, which spelled out the store’s name in Mon­drian-like let­ters and has stocked its shelves with re­lated prod­ucts, such as place mats, salt-and-pep­per shak­ers and purses.

“I can’t be­lieve how pop­u­lar they are,” owner Es­ther Cox said. “Peo­ple keep ask­ing me, ‘Do you have this with Mon­drian, do you have that with Mon­drian?’ It’s crazy.”

Cox en­joys see­ing the city awash in color.

“I hear a lot about it from cus­tomers and am happy that the col­ors are not only in the cen­trum, but across the whole city,” she said.

An­other Mon­drian site worth seek­ing out, some 90 min­utes east of The Hague, is the Mon­dri­aan­huis in the beau­ti­fully pre­served city of Amers­foort. (The artist changed the spell­ing of his name af­ter he left the Nether­lands.)

The mu­seum is lo­cated in the house where Mon­drian was born and lived un­til he was 8 years old. It was a run-of-the-mill his­tory mu­seum un­til this year, when the staff trans­formed it into an in­no­va­tive ex­hi­bi­tion trac­ing the artist’s de­vel­op­ment, as well as a repos­i­tory for com­mer­cial prod- ucts show­cas­ing his grid de­sign. A Mon­drian-pat­terned toi­let seat is among the kitschi­est.

Orig­i­nal art is not the fo­cus here; the mu­seum has only a dozen early Mon­drian land­scapes on loan from a pri­vate U.S. col­lec­tion. But the lack of paint­ings doesn’t de­tract from the ex­pe­ri­ence and per­haps even in­spired the staff and its in­ven­tive pro­duc­tion com­pany, Tin­ker Imag­i­neers, to be more cre­ative.

The per­ma­nent mul­ti­me­dia ex­hibits fo­cus on Mon­drian’s pro­found love of jazz and Amer­i­can boo­gie-woo­gie and how those in­flu­enced his art. (The Ge­meen­te­mu­seum’s sum­mer show will in­clude jazz in­flu­ences as well.) The mu­seum’s use of video, au­dio and color helps view­ers feel the en­ergy that drove Mon­drian.

Mon­dri­aan­huis cu­ra­tor Mar­jory De­gen said that it seemed nat­u­ral to in­cor­po­rate mu­sic in the makeover.

“I re­searched what he lis­tened to in what year, and I re­al­ized that the changes in his mu­sic also af­fected his work,” she said. “Dur­ing his cu­bism work in Paris, he lis­tened to rag­time. When he started us­ing dou­ble black lines, his mu­sic was more up-tempo.”

The fi­nal pro­duc­tion, a joy­ous five-minute piece shown in a small, closed room, fo­cuses on Mon­drian’s fi­nal years in New York, when he aban­doned black lines and painted smaller dy­namic color blocks.

Vis­i­tors sit around a 10-footh­igh, semi­trans­par­ent cube to watch scenes of Mon­drian work­ing in­ter­spersed with vi­gnettes of 1940s New York City, to the back­ground of the mu­sic he loved. Strips of color fill the cube, even­tu­ally flow­ing out­side it and ul­ti­mately il­lu­mi­nat­ing the walls and the au­di­ence — who find them­selves in­side a Mon­drian paint­ing in progress.

“We’ve no­ticed peo­ple stay­ing to see it twice or even three times to let it sink in,” De­gen said. “It’s quite an over­whelm­ing show.”

NANCY BEIJERSBERGEN / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

PHO­TOS BY SELINA KOK FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

FROM TOP: At the Hofvi­jver, a small lake in front of the Dutch par­lia­ment, pon­toon cubes in pri­mary hues float in one of The Hague’s many trib­utes to artist Piet Mon­drian; the Mon­dri­aan­huis, a mu­seum in the house where he was born, is a repos­i­tory for com­mer­cial prod­ucts show­cas­ing his grid de­sign — in­clud­ing a kitschy toi­let seat; vis­i­tors to the Ge­meen­te­mu­seum in The Hague view “Vic­tory Boo­gie Woo­gie,” his un­fin­ished fi­nal work.

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