Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, The Netherlands


Theo van Doesburg
Cornelis van Eesteren, Model Maison d’Artiste, 1923
Reconstruction 1982
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

October 20, 2009 – January 3, 2010

In close cooperation with Tate Modern in London, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden presents a major exhibition on Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), and this artist’s influence on the international avant-garde. Energetically and enthusiastically, Van Doesburg broke new ground as the initiator, ambassador, promoter and organiser of the new art. The 300-plus works by some 80 artists – among whom El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Gino Severini, Kurt Schwitters, Hans and Sophie Arp, Hans Richter, Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszár and Alexander Archipenko – are on loan from museums from around the world. Many of these works have never been on display before in the Netherlands.

Van Doesburg was a multi-disciplinary artist. He was a painter, architect, designer, typographer, art critic, poet, editor and publisher. He was in pursuit of changes in all these disciplines, and, above all, of a synthesis of art and life. He wanted to be a ‘constructer of the new life’. In 1917 he founded the periodical De Stijl, a platform for the art movement by the same name, in which artists and architects, such as Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck, Vilmos Huszár, J.J.P. Oud and Gerrit Rietveld, searched for a harmonic and universal style. As the editor of the periodical, Van Doesburg soon became the group‘s spokesman, and from 1920 onwards he travelled to Belgium, France and Germany to promote De Stijl. He lectured, wrote articles in international publications, gave De Stijl courses in Weimar to students of the Bauhaus, organised congresses and exhibitions, founded magazines and artists’ collectives, befriended foreign artists, such as the constructivist El Lissitzky and the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. His forte was the ease with which he managed to connect with many artists. His varied activities soon made Van Doesburg one of the pivotal people within the European avant-garde.

Van Doesburg was a man of contrasts, of controversy; resistance, to him, was something to be conquered, not something to steer clear of. Some of his friendships ended in major arguments. His works also show contradictions, in that he was interested in both constructivism and Dadaism, which, being an anti-art movement, was the very opposite. Van Doesburg created alter egos, such as the Dadaistic poet I.K. Bonset and the Italian writer Aldo Camini. During the Dada performances, first in Germany and later in the Netherlands, together with his third wife Nelly and the artists Schwitters and Huszár, he enjoyed the commotion they caused.

The exhibition takes up the whole museum. It portrays Van Doesburg as a tireless, versatile, key person within the international avant-garde. Paintings, sculptures, scale-models, furniture, posters, films, typographical designs and magazines illustrate the lively international world of art in which various disciplines became increasingly more interwoven. Artists whose works are on view include El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Gino Severini, Karl Peter Röhl, Werner Gräff, Walter Dexel, Kurt Schwitters, Hans and Sophie Arp, Raoul Hausmann, Hans Richter, Henryk Berlewi, Piet Mondrian, Vilmos Huszár, Bart van der Leck, Alexander Archipenko.

A richly illustrated catalogue Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World is also available, in English only, edited by Gladys Fabre and Doris Wintgens Hötte (240 pages and 250 colour illustrations).