A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Van Doesburg & The International Avant-Garde, Tate Modern, 06/03/10

I was at Tate Modern this morning to see the Van Doesburg & The International Avant-Garde exhibition. The exhibition told the story of Dutch artist Theo Van Doesburg and how he inspired and rose to be the central figure in the De Stijl art movement of the early twentieth century. It also featured several other artists, most of which were unfamiliar to me. 

I sensed immediately that it would be an exhibition I would enjoy as Van Doesburg's paintings of beautiful ordered grids and geometric forms dominated from the beginning. Some of his beautifully illuminated abstract grids followed in stained glass. I particularly liked Van Doesburg's 1917 stained glass 'Composition IV For The De Lange House'. The accompanying text suggested it could have been an attempt to portray Bach Fugues in visual form. 

I thought this was an excellent example of his unashamedly ambitious, intellectual approach to his art. This approach was shared by his contemporaries and was emphasised further as the exhibition continued in multi-disciplinary fashion. I noted that in total the exhibition included paintings, drawings, sculpture, typefaces, commercial sector advertisements, architecture, interior furnishings, film and music.

An early highlight was Van Doesburg's 'Rhythm Of A Russian Dance' of 1918, a brilliantly reductive, linear depiction that used coloured geometic blocks to portray a dispersing crowd. Bart van der Leck's series of compositions on workers leaving the factory followed in similar style, more clean, minimal reduction.

I liked how much of Van Doesburg's art may initially appear to be random or purely decorative but was actually based on figures, objects or ideas.

The show also focused on his involvement in the Dadism and Constructivist movements, highlighting his creation of the De Stijl typeface and the iconic statements that were often communicated by it. It also showcased the vivid, colourful paintings of mechanical imagery, the pieces by Victor Servanckx standing out.

Other highlights included Hans Richter's film of geometric shapes appearing on screen and Gerrit Rieveld's interior furnishings which contained impressive, small geometric detailing. 

We were also treated to a video of 'Le Ballet Mecanique', the film directed by Fernand Leger with music from avant garde composer George Antheil. The exhibition also featured Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack's visual translation of music 'Sonatine II Red', a beautiful organ piece with accompanying coloured geometric representations on screen. Musical scores by Erik Satie and Arnold Schoenberg again demonstrated the overlapping, comprehensive nature of the exhibition. The later rooms in the exhibition contained some pieces by Moholy-Nagy and also showcased Van Doesburg's late period of diagonal abstract paintings.

Overall I thought it was a brilliant exhibiton, an almost perfect example of how these should be done - multi-disciplinary, ambitious, wide-ranging and comprehensive. I could have spent hours in the exhibition and will try to return for a secind viewing over forthcoming weeks.

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