Renewed Mondriaanhuis - Cradles of Abstract Art
BACKGROUND The renovation of the Mondriaanhuis started in 2015 with a plan for the future of the Mondriaanhuis, ‘Cradles of Abstract Art’. Amersfoort was to Mondrian what Leiden was to Rembrandt, or Delft to Vermeer. The Mondriaanhuis, the house where Mondrian’s cradle stood, has long since been the place where Amersfoort celebrates its famous son. The time had come to take the next step. To introduce more visitors from home and abroad to his life and work. Because our times can do with the inspiration provided by Mondrian, the Dutch master and idealist. And because the centenary of the De Stijl art movement will be celebrated in the Netherlands in 2017 as a meaningful element of our Dutch cultural heritage. There are four relevant ‘Mondrian spots’ in the Netherlands: Winterswijk, where he spent his childhood, Otterlo and The Hague, where Museum Kröller Muller and the Gemeentemuseum have the largest and most important Mondrian collections in the world, and Amersfoort, where he was born. The first three show work from every phase of the artist’s life, and are eminently placed to illustrate the artistic aspects of his story - which they do with gusto. This presented Amersfoort with the opportunity to focus on Mondrian’s life. And so, the Mondriaanhuis decided against a museum-like set-up, but rather to tell his story with the use of multimedia: modern, interactive, inclusive, and one of its kind. In March 2017, the renovated Mondriaanhuis (phase 1) opened its doors to a new audience of culture lovers, tourists, children, and young people. We have brought Mondrian’s birthplace to life, and guide visitors along the cradles of his art by means of a new interior and two innovative video installations. BRIEF + CHALLENGE To quote Mondrian’s motto in life: “Don’t adapt, create!” The assignment was for the museum to tell Mondrian’s life story in a new way, suitable for a broad and international audience. Piet Mondrian’s formation is the silver thread running through it all. The child, the pupil, the idealist, and, after a remarkable turn by the end of his career, the master. Visitors take a trip along the places where his work was conceived. Most people are mainly familiar with his abstract work, and we wanted to show that his range was much broader. In addition to the interior design concept, we created two video installations. BIG IDEA The big idea was based on the concept of an empty canvas. When entering the Mondriaanhuis, you experience a white, bright space. Along the route through the museum, the canvas of his life is gradually filled in with stories, his thoughts, his space. The ‘screens’ of the video installations are empty canvases as well. A frame with black-rimmed, rectangular planes for the Works installation, and a transparent cube for the New York installation. Video-mapping is used to project the picture stories on these extraordinary canvases. A deliberate decision was made to use a universally understandable audio-visual language, without resorting to text or voice-overs. CONTENT 1) The Works > Mondrian’s paintings, presented one after the other as a musical picture story, make for a compelling start of the visit. The work of Mondrian reflects his personal development. The selected works exhibited at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague will illustrate this point. The Works, our own unique video installation, takes things a step further and brings the canvases to life. In a five-minute show, visitors witness the painter’s artistic development, from realist landscapes via ‘luminist’ scenes to his abstract compositions with their distinctive lines and planes. The audience is seated in a small theatre, with room for circa 45 people. The frame (the carrier) is the empty white canvas, made up of black-rimmed planes that refer to the layered structure of his abstract work. The Works presents an extensive selection of his paintings, in chronological order and at a high resolution. One after the other or alongside the other, making full use of the 13 available screens. Sometimes the camera zooms in, while we follow Mondrian in his search. Longer lines of development are alternated with small revolutions. By watching the presentation, the connections become clear: the variation of the 1910s and the concentration of his later years. The contemporary music that Mondrian liked, from Ravel to jazz, from Stravinsky to boogie-woogie, accompanies and underlines the story on the screen. “The music collage is ever changing, in keeping with the chronology one passes through a world of form, climbing from the real to the abstract.” [Mondrian] 2) New York > New York city life and Mondrian’s late work – boogie-woogie, clear lines, yellow, dynamic planes, and his favourite music – intertwine into one immersive audio-visual spectacle. In New York, Mondrian, the master, starts afresh. He gets rid of the black lines and explores new spaces in his work. He discovers that lines are planes in themselves. Reinvents himself, focuses on movement. The American influence becomes clearer: boogie-woogie music, Disney films, the city that never sleeps. Everything he has created up until this point comes together. His Victory Boogie Woogie is never finished. The visitor is immersed and involved in the artistic quest from Mondrian’s New York period. Mondrian went through a theosophical evolution, from reality, via dreams to spiritualisation. We put visitors in a dreamlike state, to allow them to follow in his footsteps. It’s not like they ‘become’ Mondrian, but rather that they get to visit his dreams. They look in on those dreams and see flashes from the world outside: brief, distorted, subjective. The dream witnessed by the visitors unfolds as follows: Entrance: visitors enter the room and see a cube (the white canvas!) with an illuminated frame. The cube is the most abstract form of Mondrian’s studio, but it’s also what is happening in his mind. The gauze is lit and semi-translucent. They sit down on the benches. Outer world: the lights are shaded, music begins to play, and images of New York appear on the outside of the cube. Filmed from a first-person perspective, the visitors arrive by boat. And are immediately bombarded with impressions of the city, its colours, its sounds, its dynamics. A silhouette of Mondrian takes them inside the cube. The lights on the outside of the cube are shaded and we can now see into the cube, where colour planes and black lines are shifting in the back: the artist at work. Inner world: we see a framed, taut, searching interplay of black lines and white planes. Slowly but surely, the lines and planes start to leave the frame. Spaces (walls of the cube) are being filled – until they’re filled up. The sliding and shifting interplay loosens and quickens. Planes leave their lines behind, coloured planes change into coloured lines, while the black lines move to the background. As the lines evolve, the projection of the exterior starts to interfere. Like light through the cracks of an old wall, fragments from the outside world enter the artist’s imagination. Neon lights, music, dance, soldiers. When they are mostly coloured lines left, these lines start gliding to the front of the cube, leaving the cube, entering the room... They are moving towards the visitors. Dreamworld: but before the lines reach the visitors, the back projection is switched on and the interplay of lines, which is getting ever more intense and more colourful, fills the room. The transformation of the lines continues until the black lines have gone. Lines disintegrate into squares, everything is flowing and pulsating. The squares are elongated into lines, but this time, there is no stopping. They run over the visitors, slide up the walls. Ever further, ever stronger, the rhythmic interplay of forms takes over the entire room... Climax: … until the whole room is turned into a swinging and dancing field of squares, of which the visitors quite literally become a part! Balance! Liberation! “I’ve arrived”, Mondrian would say. All of a sudden, everything is sucked back into the cube, leaving the empty canvas to Mondrian’s final appearance. INNOVATIVE The multi-media concept represents a new approach to the use of film or video in a museum or heritage institution. The carriers are part of the story in themselves. In Works, the video is projected onto a frame of lines and planes that in itself is exemplary of Mondrian’s work. In New York, the carrier is a cube showing Mondrian’s inner and outer world, switching seamlessly between the two. Eventually, the film leaves the canvas, enveloping the visitors and the room in an all-over immersive installation. SUCCESS This new presentation of Mondrian’s work and body of thought has been well received, both at home and abroad. The New York Times (15 March 2017) speaks of the museum as “experiential”. Dutch newspaper Trouw (7 March 2017) praises “the impressive light, sound and video projection that reflects Mondrian’s New York. (...) The Mondrian House is swinging.” The Telegraaf (5 April 2017), another major Dutch newspaper, agrees that the Mondriaanhuis is swinging and adds that “it belies the oft-repeated notion that Mondrian was a straight-laced guy.” “Fascinating footage alternates with projections of his abstract works, such as his last, unfinished work, Victory Boogie Woogie. The audience becomes part of the painting and can peep into the head of the artist, who is working feverishly, with death at his doorstep, looking for the right, harmonious, yet dynamic composition.” To improve access to Europe’s heritage, especially for young people, we deliberately decided to limit the use of text. No voice over was included either. These two video-installations tell the story of Mondrian in pictures and music – two universal languages. They are unique, artistic creations that fit in with our times – inspiring young and old alike – and at the same time do justice to history (Mondrian’s complete works) and the authentic body of thought of the master himself.