Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture

Author(s): Yve-Alain Bois
Source: Assemblage, No. 4 (Oct., 1987), pp. 102-130
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3171039 .
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Yve-Alain B o is
Mo ndrian and t h e
T h eo ry
o f Arch it ect ure
Yve-Alain B o is is As s o ciat e Pro f es s o r o f
Art
His t o ry
at t h e
Jo h ns Ho pkins
Univer-
s it y
and a
f o unding
edit o r o f Macula.
1
(f ro nt is piece). Co llect ive
let t er s ent t o Mo ndrian by
t h e
part icipant s
o f a
ClIAM
meet ing
in Ams t erdam
Wh en Mo ndrian arrived in New
Yo rk,
in Oct o ber
1940,
h e was
preceded by
a
reput at io n
as a
des igner
rat h er t h an
as a
paint er.
T h e f ew
paint ings
t h at h ad been exh ibit ed
during
t h e t h irt ies at t h e
Gallery
o f
Living
Art
(t h e privat e
mus eum o f A. E.
Gallat in)
o r at t h e Mus eum o f Mo dern
Art were no t at f irs t
reco gnized
as eas el
paint ings ,
but
rat h er were s een as
h y po t h et ical
mo dels t h at needed t o be
applied.
"Wh en I f irs t lo o ked at Mo ndrian's
paint ings ,"
wro t e Ch armio n vo n
Wiegand,
"I f o und t h em bare but
beaut if ully pro po rt io ned des igns .
I co uld
s ee
t h eir us e f o r
indus t ry ,
f o r
t y po graph y ,
f o r
deco rat io n,
but I co uld no t
unders t and
wh y
h e s t ill co ns idered h ims elf a
paint er."'
T h e
y o ung
art is t and crit ic was
quick
t o
mo dif y
h er
judgment
and t o dis co ver t h e f ull
pict o rial
rich nes s o f Mo ndrian's
wo rk. B ut t h e
impo rt ant po int
h ere is t h at t h is "ut ilit arian"
int erpret at io n
o f
neo plas t icis t paint ing
h as f o r
quit e
s o me
t ime
largely
do minat ed t h e crit ical dis co urs e. It
is ,
f irs t o f
all,
t h e
argument
o f it s det ract o rs :
"s t rict ly
deco rat ive
paint -
ing,"
wro t e
T 6riade;2
a kind o f
paint ing "barely go o d
eno ugh
t o s erve as bat h ro o m
t iling
f o r it s
pat ro n,"
s aid
iro nically
ano t h er f as h io nable crit ic af t er t h e f irs t
public
appearance
o f Mo ndrian's
paint ings
in
Paris .3
B ut t h is in-
t erpret at io n rapidly
became t h e
reas o ning
o f Mo ndrian's
advo cat es as well. No do ubt t o
co nvince,
t o
rally
t h e vo t es
o f t h e
B eo t ians ,
almo s t
every
art icle t h at h as
appeared
o n
t h e
art is t ,
and t h is unt il
recent ly (it
s eems t h at h e is no w
beginning
t o be s een as
es s ent ially
a
paint er),
h as ins is t ed
o n t h e
s uppo s ed
inf luence t h at Mo ndrian h as h ad o n o ur
enviro nment . Unt il t h e
1970s ,
no h is t o rian o f mo dern ar-
103
LES CONGRES
INT ERNAT IONAUX D'ARCHIT ECT URE MODERNE
INT ERNAT IONALE KONGRESSE FUR NEUES
B AUEN
11/6/ ,5
Ams + rdt m
Jh er Piet ,Mo ndriaan,
R4unit s dans une as s emblee des del4guees
des Co ngres
int ernat io naux d'arch it ect ure mo derne a Ams t erdam,
no us pens o ns a vo us , et no us vo us envo y o ns no s
s alut at io ns co rdiales ,
s incerem.-Mnt
4,L,
44o kai..
ki000-bIek
as s emblage
4
-i -- L
. ..
I|.
I.
162 (52) Do es burg:
Rus s ian 163 (305)
Mi~is
van
dc Ro h e:
Pro -
dance,1918 (no t
in exh ibit io n) ; ject
f o r a brick
co unt ry v h o us e, plan,
(f . Picas s o , f ig.
27 1922
16 (20) Gro is : rs Co r s us . I)cs au, 19"25-26:
c'f .
I),M
.
lf i igp. 11.t 11.o
I cr righ t
2.
Page
f ro m Alf red B arr's
Cubis m and Abs t ract Art , 1936.
B arr
co mpares
no t
o nly
van
Do es burg's Rh y t h m
o f a Rus -
s ian Dance t o Mies 's
pro ject
f o r
a brick
co unt ry h o me, but als o
Gro pius 's pro f es s o r's
h o us e at
Des s au t o van
Do es burg's
Co m-
po s it io n
VIII
(T h e Co w)
o f 1917.
ch it ect ure f ailed t o cit e
h im,
at o ne mo ment o r
ano t h er,
as
a kind o f
precurs o r
-
t h e
except io n being Rey ner
B an-
h am,
wh o s e evaluat io n o f
Mo ndrian's
wo rk t o o k o n a
po -
lemical value in it s o wn t ime
-
as if arch it ect ure h ad
wait ed f o r
neo plas t icis m
t o
glo rif y as y mmet ry
o r
h o rizo nt al/
vert ical
rh y t h m.4
Such a
po s it io n,
o n t h e o ne
h and,
neglect s
t o t ake int o acco unt t h e wo rk o f Frank
Llo y d
Wrigh t ,
wh o f ro m t h e end o f t h e las t
cent ury play ed very
s ubt ly
wit h
s y mmet ry
and
dis s y mmet ry (and
wh o h ad h im-
s elf a no t able inf luence o n cert ain De
St ijl arch it ect s ).
And,
o n t h e o t h er
h and,
it
igno res
t h at
arch it ect ure,
t end-
ing
f ro m t h e 1880s t o ward a "mo ral"
exergue
o f it s anat -
o my (t h e
wo rd is
B erlage's ), quit e nat urally began
t o exalt
t h e
majo r o ppo s it io n
o f
weigh t
and
s uppo rt :
an
o ppo s it io n
t h at ,
t h anks t o t ech nical
develo pment s
and t h e
appearance
o f new mat erials
(s t eel,
reinf o rced
cement )
was manif es t ed
mo re t h an ever in t h e
expres s io n "H/V," acco rding
t o t h e
s iby lline ph ras e
o f T h eo van
Do es burg,
t h at is t o
s ay , by
t h e
relat io ns h ip "h o rizo nt al/vert ical."'
Nevert h eles s ,
it s h o uld no t be as s umed t h at it is in
it s elf
inco ngruo us
t o examine t h e
po s s ible
relat io ns bet ween
Mo ndrian's art and
t h eo ry
wit h
res pect
t o arch it ect ure. De
St ijl,
af t er
all,
was a mo vement
t h at ,
wit h van
Do es burg
as
o ne o f it s
pillars , bro ugh t paint ers
and arch it ect s
t o get h er
in t h e
h o pe
o f
at t aining
a co llect ive creat io n. No r s h o uld
o ne
igno re
t h at it was t h e arch it ect s wh o were
es pecially
appreciat ive
o f Mo ndrian's
art , f o rming
de
f act o
t h e mo s t
impo rt ant
s o cial
gro up
o f h is
admirers ,
as well as h is mo s t
f ait h f ul co llect o rs
(t o
name
o nly
a
f ew, J. J.
P.
Oud, Ph ilip
Jo h ns o n,
Sir Les lie
Mart in,
Ch arles
Kars t en, T h .
K. van
Lo h uizen,
Co rnelis van
Ees t eren,
Alf red
Ro t h ,
Mart
St am,
Pierre
Ch areau,
Werner
Mo s er,
and
B enjamin
Mer-
kelbach ,
each o f wh o m
po s s es s ed
at leas t o ne o f t h e
paint -
er's wo rks
during
h is
lif et ime).
It is
s imply neces s ary
t o no t e
t h at t h e s earch f o r
Mo ndrianes que
"mo t if s " in s uch and
s uch a
s ky s craper pro f ile,
in s uch and s uch a
pat t ern
o f
o penings
in t h e
f acade
o f a
co nt empo rary building,
is
much les s
pert inent
t h an is
generally
believed. T o t ake o ne
example
t h at do es no t
direct ly
co ncern Mo ndrian but an-
o t h er
De
St ijl paint er:
t h e
co mparis o n
t h at h as been made
a t h o us and t imes bet ween t h e
plan
o f a
Co unt ry
Ho us e
by
Mies van der
Ro h e, 1923,
and t h e
Rh y t h m o f
a Rus s ian
Dance, 1918, by
van
Do es burg.6 St riking t h o ugh
it
is ,
t h is
104
B o is
3. Gerrit Riet veld,
Sch r6der
h o us e, Ut rech t , 1924. T h e f irs t
o f a ro w o f brick h o us es ,
ref lect ing
t h en in a
po nd
as
a
bridge
bet ween
cit y
and
co unt ry s cape, it f unct io ns as a
gat e t o t h e t o wn.
co mparis o n
s eems
es s ent ially s us pect .
It is
t y pical
o f a cer-
t ain f o rmalis t
ideo lo gy
o f
des ign
-
t h e
principal s h aper
o f
wh ich was wit h o ut do ubt t h e
B auh aus , alt h o ugh
unwill-
ingly
-
wh ere
every t h ing
is
t h o ugh t
t o be co nt ained in
every t h ing
els e and mat erial dif f erences are o verlo o ked in
f avo r o f
mo rph o lo gical analo gies .
A
luxury cigaret t e
ligh t er,
f ive cent imet ers
h igh ,
can be
co mpared
t o a
s ky -
s craper, eigh t y
s t o ries
h igh ,
a
plan
o f a villa t o an eas el
paint ing:
t h e
argument
o f s imilit ude is h eld t o
pro ve
t h e
cas e.
Curio us ly eno ugh ,
it was Gerrit
Riet veld,
t h e arch it ect
mo s t
co mparable
t o Mo ndrian
(and
h o w can o ne
no t ,
in
ef f ect ,
be s t ruck
by
t h e f o rmal res emblance bet ween t h e
po ly ch ro me
f acades
o f t h e
Sch r6der
Ho us e and t h e neo -
plas t icis t
wo rks o f t h e Dut ch
paint er?),
wh o
clearly
warned
agains t
t h is abus e o f
analo gical relat io ns h ips . Having
clari-
f ied t h at h e
h ad,
in
f act ,
never met Mo ndrian
-
an ac-
kno wledgement
t h at
s ignif ies no t h ing
in
it s elf ,
s ave f o r
indicat ing
t h e t enuo us nat ure o f t h e
pers o nal relat io ns h ips
amo ng
t h e mo s t
impo rt ant
members o f De
St ijl7
-
Riet -
veld co nceded t h at t h e
paint er
h ad a "direct "
inf luence
o n
arch it ect ure,
abo ve all o n t h at o f t h e
int erio r, "including,"
h e
wro t e,
"all t h e
igno minies ,
no w
f o rt unat ely co ncluded,
perpet rat ed
in t h e realm o f
lead-glazing."8
B ut h e als o
added,
"I s ee in
every
direct
applicat io n
o f t h e
co mpo s i-
t io ns o f Mo ndrian t o arch it ect ure t h e
danger
o f a
rapid
s h if t t o deco rat ive
pret t ines s ,
and t h is
precis ely by
virt ue o f
t h e
very analy t ical beginnings
o f De
St ijl."
Even
t h o ugh
h e did no t
deny
t h e exis t ence o f a cert ain
s uperf icial
inf lu-
ence o f Mo ndrian o n
arch it ect ure,
Riet veld ref us ed t o
grant
t h e leas t
impo rt ance
t o t h es e
"applicat io ns ."
Mo ndri-
an's t rue inf luence in t h is do main co uld
no t ,
h e
s t res s ed,
be
analy zed
wit h o ut
t aking
int o acco unt t h e ent ire t h eo ret -
ical wo rk o f De
St ijl
at it s
incept io n,
f o unded o n t h e
analy t ical s eparat io n
o f t h e dif f erent
genres
o f
plas t ic
art
(paint ing, s culpt ure, arch it ect ure)
-
a
preliminary s epara-
t io n
t h at , acco rding
t o t h e members o f t h e
mo vement ,
wo uld lead
by
it s
very rigo r
t o t h e invent io n o f a co mmo n
deno minat o r f o r all t h e art s . "At t h e
epo ch
o f De
St ijl,"
wro t e
Riet veld,
"o ne did no t
s peak
o f a t rans lat io n o f
pict o -
rial
experience
int o
arch it ect ure;
o n t h e
co nt rary ,
o ne
s po ke
o f t h e
s eparat io n
o f
s pace, co lo r,
and f o rm as t h e
po int
o f
depart ure
f o r t h e
analy s is ."9
T h at
s aid,
t h e mis un-
105
as s emblage 4
ders t anding
deno unced
by Riet veld,
s t ill current
eno ugh
t o day ,
wo uld be o f lit t le
impo rt ance
in
regard
t o t h e wo rk
o f Mo ndrian if t h e
paint er
h ims elf was no t in s o me
way
t h e f irs t t o h ave
generat ed it , engendering
in h is
t h eo ry
many
mo re co nt radict io ns o n t h e
ques t io n
o f t h e relat io n-
s h ips
bet ween
paint ing
and arch it ect ure t h an o n
any
o t h er
mat t er.
In t h e
aut o bio graph y publis h ed
in t h e
cat alo gue
o f h is f irs t
o ne-man exh ibit io n in New Yo rk in
1942,
Mo ndrian
wro t e: "Mo dern arch it ect ure and
indus t ry res po nded
t o o ur
inf luence,
but
paint ing
and
s culpt ure
were lit t le
af f ect ed."'1
T h e
part is ans
o f a "ut ilit arian"
int erpret at io n
o f Mo ndrian's
wo rk can
cert ainly
us e t h is declarat io n in
s uppo rt
o f t h eir
t h es is ,
but t h is wo uld
igno re
t h e co nt ext in wh ich t h e
ph ras e
was ut t ered. Mo ndrian was indeed
def ending
h im-
s elf ,
but als o
crit icizing
wh at h e s aw as t h e
regres s ive
ch ar-
act er o f
co nt empo rary pict o rial
and
s culpt ural pro duct io n.
Mo ndrian's t ext
immediat ely
co nt inues :
"T h ey
s eemed t o
f ear t h at Neo -Plas t icis m
migh t
lead t o 'deco rat io n.' Ac-
t ually ,
t h ere was no reas o n f o r t h is f ear in
pure plas t ic
art
any
mo re t h an in
any
o t h er art
expres s io n.
All art beco mes
'deco rat io n' wh en
dept h
o f
expres s io n
is
lacking.""
It was
t o
f igh t
t h e accus at io n o f deco rat io n t h at Mo ndrian
ap-
pealed
t o arch it ect ure and
indus t ry ,
wh ich h ad no t
f ailed,
h e
s t at ed,
wh ile
o bey ing
t h eir o wn
requirement s ,
t o f o llo w
develo pment s "parallel
if no t
equal"
t o
neo plas t icis m.
His
great
dis dain f o r
applied
art s h ad no t diminis h ed s ince
1930,
wh en h e h ad
res po nded
t o t h e unf avo rable
judgment
o f
T driade
(o n
t h e
"s t rict ly
deco rat ive" nat ure o f
neo plas t i-
cis m): "Indeed
perh aps
no
t endency
h as been mo re
wro ngly applied,
mo re
vulgarized
in
advert is ement s ,
in
deco rat io n,
in
arch it ect ure, et c."'2
"Wh ile Neo -Plas t icis m no w h as it s o wn int rins ic
value,
as
paint ing
and
s culpt ure,
it
may
be co ns idered as a
prepara-
t io n f o r a f ut ure
arch it ect ure,"
Mo ndrian co nt inued in h is
aut o bio graph y .
13 Here
again,
t h e "ut ilit arians " s eem t o
h ave t h e
righ t
t o be
pleas ed;
and
nevert h eles s ,
h ere
again,
des pit e
t h e
ambiguo us
nat ure o f Mo ndrian's f o rmulat io n
(a
"preparat io n"
can in f act be t aken f o r a
mo del), t h ey
wo uld
be
wro ng.
Fo r Mo ndrian did no t in
any way imply
t h e
s imple
f o rmal
applicat io n
o f t h e
co mpo s it io nal
met h o d o f
paint ing
t o arch it ect ure. Wh at Mo ndrian calls
"neo plas t i-
cis m" is a
gro up
o f
principles
t h at
go bey o nd any
art is t ic
pract ice
in
part icular:
a f o rm o f
paint ing may
be it s realiza-
t io n in
paint ing,
a
h y po t h et ical building
it s realizat io n in
arch it ect ure;
but t h es e vis ible manif es t at io ns are
by
nat ure
imperf ect
and
alway s perf ect ible,
wh ile t h e
principles
are
in t h ems elves
"int angible" (t h is
is a leit mo t iv o f h is
writ ings ).
As
early
as
1922,
Mo ndrian no t ed t h at t h e
realizat io n o f
neo plas t icis m
in arch it ect ure was almo s t
impo s s ible, given exis t ing
eco no mic and t ech nical co ndi-
t io ns ,14 and declared
o penly ,
"Wh at was ach ieved in art
mus t f o r t h e
pres ent
be limit ed t o art . Our ext ernal envi-
ro nment canno t
y et
be realized as t h e
pure plas t ic expres -
s io n o f
h armo ny ."'5 Cert ainly
t h is t ext
precedes by t went y
y ears
t h e American
aut o bio graph y ,
but
every t h ing s uppo rt s
t h e indicat io n t h at Mo ndrian h ad no t
ch anged
h is mind
o n t h is
po int .
Unt il t h e end o f h is
lif e,
Mo ndrian
t h o ugh t
o f t h e realizat io n o f
neo plas t icis m
in arch it ect ure as
s o met h ing
t h at wo uld o ccur in t h e
f ut ure.
Wh ile h e
o f t en exh ibit ed h is admirat io n f o r cert ain
co nt empo rary
arch it ect ural
creat io ns ,
h e
accept ed
no ne wit h o ut
qualif ica-
t io n,
no t even t h o s e o f
Riet veld,
o n wh ich h e was
s ingu-
larly
s ilent . His
judgment s
o n
co nt empo rary
arch it ect ure
were
alway s co mparat ive
and relat ive. T h e wo rk o f Le Co r-
bus ier,
f o r
example,
was t o Mo ndrian
"already
beaut if ul
.
.
in
co mparis o n
wit h o t h er wo rks . . .
, already very
great
in t h is
epo ch ,
but it is no t t h e
apo gee
o f cult ure!":
h is art was "s t ill t o o
nat uralis t ic."16
Or
again,
if h e wro t e t o
Oud,
at t h e
very beginning
o f t h eir
f riends h ip,
t h at h e
great ly
admired h is
Pro ject
f o r a
Fact o ry
o f
1919,
it was
o nly
t o add: "it is t h e bes t t h at I h ave s een o f it s kind.""7
T h is "bes t " s t ands
o ut ,
but it was f ar f ro m
imply ing perf ec-
t io n. In
brief ,
no arch it ect ural realizat io n ever exis t ed
(no r
co uld
h ave
exis t ed)
t h at
repres ent ed
f o r Mo ndrian an abs o -
lut e
example
o f t h at
"pure
arch it ect ure" o f wh ich h e
dreamed.
It is
appro priat e
t o
analy ze,
in t h e remainder o f t h is
es s ay ,
t h e
many reas o ns , s t emming
f ro m t h e co nt radict io ns in
Mo ndrian's
t h eo ry , wh y
t h is was s o . T h e f irs t
res ides ,
as
we h ave
s een,
in t h e
way
in wh ich Mo ndrian t h inks o f
(ref us es
and s o met imes
admit s )
t h e
po s s ibilit y
o f a "ut iliza-
t io n" o f t h e
principles
o f
neo plas t icis m
in arch it ect ure
-
a
f o rmulat io n t h at mus t be examined mo re
clo s ely .
T h e s ec-
o nd,
and mo re
es s ent ial,
co ncerns t h e
very no t io n,
f o und
106
B o is
4. J. J. P. Oud, pro ject
f o r a
f act o ry , Purmerend,
1919
in h is
writ ings ,
o f
ut ilit y
in arch it ect ure
and, bey o nd t h is ,
h is
s t ruggle agains t
t h e f unct io nalis t
co ncept io n
o f mo dern
arch it ect ure. T h e
t h ird,
mo re s erio us
s t ill,
and
direct ly
linked t o Mo ndrian's o wn arch it ect ural
experiment s ,
co ncerns h is
blindnes s ,
h is abs o lut e ref us al o f t h e
s pat ial
givens
o f arch it ect ure.
Agains t Applied Neo plas t icis m
Mo ndrian,
as we h ave
s aid,
ref us ed t h e idea o f
applied
art s
as well as o f "deco rat io n": "T h e deco rat ive art s
dis appear
in
Neo -Plas t icis m, jus t
as t h e
applied
art s ."'8
Or
again,
"Neo -
Plas t icis m
s eemingly
lends it s elf t o deco rat io n
(t h ro ugh
it s
planarit y )
but
act ually
t h e "deco rat ive" h as no
place
in t h e
Neo -Plas t ic
co ncept io n."'9
Mo ndrian's s o le co nt ribut io n t o
t h e do main o f t h e
"applied
art s "
(if
we
except
t h e cubis t
plat e
h e co nceived bef o re t h e advent o f
neo plas t icis m
in
1914)20 was
indeed a burden f o r h im: t h e
lay o ut
f o r t h e
co ver o f t h e
unpublis h ed
Po lis h t rans lat io n o f h is B auh aus
bo o k.21
And we will s ee t h at Mo ndrian's int erio rs
cert ainly
canno t be clas s if ied in t h e
cat ego ry
o f deco rat io n
-
t h o s e,
f o r
example,
o f h is o wn
s t udio ,
h is
pro ject
f o r a Salo n
po ur Madame
B
. . . ,
o r h is mo del f o r a t h eat rical
"deco r."
In o rder bet t er t o unders t and Mo ndrian's
po s it io n agains t
t h e
applicat io n
o f o ne art t o
ano t h er,
and f o r t h e
applica-
t io n,
in each
art ,
o f t h e
principles
o f
neo plas t icis m (a po s i-
t io n s ummarized in a let t er t o Alf red
Ro t h ,
"It s h o uld no t
be believed t h at we want t o make 'art ' in
arch it ect ure"),22
we s h o uld do ubt les s
ret urn,
as Riet veld
indicat ed,
t o t h e
very beginnings
o f De
St ijl,
wh en a t rue
analy t ic t h eo ry
o f
t h e dif f erent art s was f o rmulat ed
by Mo ndrian,
T h eo van
Do es burg,
and B art van der Leck.
Alt h o ugh
t h e co nt ent o f all art s is
o ne,
t h e
po s s ibilit ies
o f
plas t ic
ext erio rizat io n are dif f erent f o r each art . Each art dis co vers t h es e
po s s ibilit ies
wit h in it s o wn do main and mus t remain limit ed
by
it s bo unds . Each art
po s s es s es
it s o wn means
o f expres s io n:
t h e
t rans f o rmat io n
o f it s
plas t ic
means h as t o be dis co vered
indepen-
dent ly by
each art and mus t remain limit ed
by
it s o wn bo unds .
T h eref o re
t h e
po t ent ialit ies
o f o ne art canno t be
judged acco rding
t o t h e
po t ent ialit ies
o f
ano t h er,
but mus t be co ns idered
indepen-
dent ly
and
o nly
wit h
regard
t o t h e art co ncerned.23
Such is Mo ndrian's
quo t at io n,
in
1920,
o f a
f ragment
f ro m
107
as s emblage
4
t h e
very f irs t
t ext t h at h e h ad
publis h ed
in De
St ijl,
in it s
inaugural
is s ue.24 Even
t h o ugh
in t h is art icle h e ins is t ed
o n t h e
s pecif icit y
o f each
art ,
Mo ndrian did no t acco rd t h e
s ame s t at us t o all:
paint ing
was "t h e f rees t
art ";
it alo ne
co uld
give
ris e t o
"t h e
mo s t
co ns equent ial expres s io n
o f
pure
relat io ns ." His claim f o r
s pecif icit y
was t h us encum-
bered f ro m t h e o ut s et
by
an evident
dis s y mmet ry .
No w in
t h e s ame is s ue o f De
St ill,
B art van der Leck
publis h ed
an
art icle,
s t ill mo re
clearly art iculat ed,
o n t h e relat io ns be-
t ween
paint ing
and arch it ect ure.25 In s ubs t ance,
van der
Leck
pro po s ed
t h at each art is t s h o uld
o ccupy
h ims elf wit h
h is o wn wo rk s o t h at no art wo uld
impinge
o n t h e
prero ga-
t ives o f ano t h er
(o n
t h is
po nt evident ly ,
at t h e
beginning
at
leas t ,
t h e
t h eo ry
o f t h e members o f De
St ijl
s h ares
no t h ing
wit h an
apo lo gy
f o r a
Ges amt kuns t werk).
Let each
art ,
van
der Leck
s t at ed,
s earch o n it s o wn acco unt f o r wh at co ns t i-
t ut es it s
s pecif ic
"es s ence." And van der Leck enumerat ed
t h e dif f erences bet ween
paint ing
and arch it ect ure: f lat nes s
/
vo lume; o pennes s
/
clo s ure;
co lo r / abs ence o f
co lo r;
ext en-
s io n
/ limit at io n; plas t ic equilibrium
/ co ns t ruct ive
equilib-
rium. B ut if van der Leck claimed wit h ins is t ence t h is
s eparat io n
o f
ro les ,
it was no t
in
o rder
vio lent ly
t o
o ppo s e
paint ing
and arch it ect ure t o each
o t h er,
rat h er t h e co n-
t rary .
In a s eco nd t ext o n t h e s ame
pro blem, publis h ed
f o ur mo nt h s lat er in De
St ill,
van der Leck o f f ered a mo re
precis e explanat io n:
"It is
o nly
wh en t h e means o f
expres -
s io n o f each art are
applied
in
all t h eir
purit y ,
t h at is t o
s ay , acco rding
t o t h e
ch aract eris t ics
o f it s nat ure and
end,
s o t h at each art at t ains it s o wn es s ence as an aut o no mo us
ent it y ,
it is
o nly
at t h is mo ment t h at an
int erlinking,
a
do vet ailing,
will beco me
po s s ible,
wh ich will demo ns t rat e
t h e
unit y
o f t h e dif f erent
art s .'"26
And
wh y
will t h is
o ccur,
acco rding
t o van der Leck? B ecaus e
paint ing
and arch it ec-
t ure h ave a f undament al element in
co mmo n, f lat nes s ,
t h e
"degree
zero o f t h eir art "
(in
wall o r
pict ure plane).
In
f act ,
it is becaus e it h as beco me
planar (pict o rial
f lat nes s is t h e
wat ch wo rd o f all t h e
paint ers
o f De
St ijl)
t h at
paint ing
"h as
arrived
t o day
at t h e
po int
wh ere it
may
be admit t ed t o a
co llabo rat io n wit h arch it ect ure. T h is h as
h appened
becaus e
it s means o f
expres s io n
h ave been
purif ied.
T h e
des cript io n
o f t ime and
s pace by
t h e means o f
pers pect ive
h as been
abando ned: it is h encef o rt h
up
t o t h e f lat
plane
t o t rans mit
t h e
co nt inuit y
o f
s pace.
. . .
Paint ing
is
t o day
arch it ect ural
becaus e in it s elf and
by
it s o wn means it s erves t h e s ame
co ncept
-
t h e
s pace
and t h e
plane
-
as
arch it ect ure, and
t h us
expres s es
't h e s ame
t h ing'
but in a dif f erent
way .'"27
T h e
po int
o f
depart ure
was t h e s ame f o r van
Do es burg
in
t h e f irs t
majo r
t ext t h at h e
publis h ed
o n
arch it ect ure,
in
No vember 1918. Fo r h im t h e divis io n o f labo r was abs o -
lut ely neces s ary :
"Each art , arch it ect ure, paint ing,
o r
s culpt ure, requires
t h e wh o le man."28
He
repeat ed
t h e
s ame recriminat io ns as h ad van der Leck
agains t
t h o s e
arch it ect s wh o wo uld
at t empt every t h ing.29
Van
Do es burg
wo uld
reit erat e many
t imes t h is
expres s
demand f o r a divi-
s io n o f
labo r,
even
t h o ugh evident ly , increas ingly int eres t ed
in
arch it ect ure,
h e no
lo nger o bey ed
it h ims elf .
("Many
a
mis unders t anding
o r mis t ake h as res ult ed wh en
paint er
and
arch it ect did no t
s uf f icient ly res pect
o ne ano t h er's f ield.
On t h e o ne
h and,
arch it ect s res t rict ed
paint ers ;
o n t h e
o t h er h and, t h ey pres ent ed
t h em wit h t o o much
f ree-
do m.")30
B ut van
Do es burg's inaugural t ext , in
place
o f
s t res s ing
t h e
planar
ch aract er co mmo n t o t h e t wo
art s ,
ins is t ed
o n o ne o f t h e dif f erences bet ween
paint ing
and
arch it ect ure t h at van der Leck h ad art iculat ed wit h o ut
elabo rat io n: "Arch it ect ure
jo ins t o get h er,
binds
-
paint ing
lo o s ens , unbinds ."
In t h is t ext o f
1918,
van
Do es burg
f o r-
mulat ed t h e
t h eo ry
t h at h e was t o
h o ld,
wit h s o me varia-
t io ns ,
unt il t h e end o f h is lif e: "Arch it ect ure
pro vides
a
co ns t ruct ed, clo s ed, plas t ic f o rm, by
virt ue o f it s balanced
relat io ns h ips . Paint ing
is co nt ras t ed
in
relat io n t o
arch it ect ure. "31
In t h is co nt ext Mo ndrian elabo rat ed h is f irs t
writ ings
o n
t h e
ques t io n.
His ins is t ence o n t h e
s pecif icit y
o f t h e
art s ,
h is "each
s pecialt y
demands
co mplet e
at t ent io n and
s t udy ,"32 direct ly
ech o ed t h e "wh o le man" called f o r
by
van
Do es burg.
In t h e f irs t t ext wh ere h e
s po ke
t o s o me ext ent
abo ut
arch it ect ure,
"Het
bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde,"33
publis h ed
in December
1918,
Mo ndrian in f act t o o k
up
a
number o f ideas s et f o rt h
by
van der Leck and van Do es -
burg,
ideas t h at
migh t
be s ummarized in t h ree
po s t ulat es :
(1) Paint ing, h aving evo lved,
is
t o day ready
t o co me t o
t erms wit h arch it ect ure
(a principal
idea o f van der
Leck's );
(2)
but it is
no t ,
f o r
t h is , any
mo re an
acces s o ry
o f arch i-
t ect ure,
becaus e it is no t co ns t ruct ive
(Mo ndrian
cit ed van
der Leck's t ext in a
no t e);
and
(3)
arch it ect ure
alway s pre-
108
B o is
s uppo s es
clo s ure and limit at io n
(Mo ndrian
cit ed t h is t ime
van
Do es burg's t ext ).
No w Mo ndrian art iculat ed each o f
t h es e t h es es in a dif f erent manner t h an h ad van der Leck
o r van
Do es burg,
o r
rat h er,
h e co rrect ed each
by
addit io ns .
T o t h e f irs t
s t at ement ,
Mo ndrian added t h e idea t h at arch i-
t ect ure h as
alway s "s urpas s ed"
t h e
neigh bo ring
art s
by
it s
very nat ure,
even if in an unco ns cio us
way . Arch it ect ure,
h e wo uld writ e
lat er,
will h ave t h e s h o rt es t
part
o f t h e
ro ut e t o co ver. T h is t h eme o f arch it ect ure in t h e f o ref ro nt
was o f t en t o ret urn in Mo ndrian's
writ ing,
unt il h e co r-
rect ed it
by
a
s t range
evo lut io nis t dialect ic:
precis ely
be-
caus e arch it ect ure is t o o clo s e t o
"pure
vis io n"
-
t h at is t o
s ay ,
becaus e it
expres s es
it s elf
t h ro ugh
t h e relat io n "h o ri-
zo nt al/vert ical" - arch it ect ure canno t at t ain it
f ully .
B ut
t h is dialect ical "co rrect io n" was
already pres ent
in
embry o
in "Het
bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde": o nly paint ing
h as led
t o t h e
expres s io n
o f
"pure relat io ns h ips ";
in o t h er
wo rds ,
t h e "advance" o f arch it ect ure s erves and will s erve in t h e
f ut ure f o r
no t h ing.
All t h e
s ubs equent
t ext s o f Mo ndrian
(but
als o t h o s e o f van
Do es burg)
wo uld ins is t o n t h is inau-
gural
ro le o f
paint ing. 4
T o t h e s eco nd o f t h es e t h es es Mo ndrian f irs t added t h e
remark, repeat ed
s everal t imes
af t erwards ,
t h at
arch it ect ure,
precis ely
becaus e it is "co ns t ruct ive" is no t f ree
(t h e weigh t
o f mat erials h inders
it ).
Mo ndrian
o ppo s ed
it t o
paint ing,
no
lo nger
co ns t ruct ive but
"co ns t ruct ing" [co ns t rueerende].
B ut t h is
o ppo s it io n o pens up
an
ent irely
dif f erent s ide o f
h is
t h eo ry , revealing
wh at dif f erent iat es
Mo ndrian f ro m
van
Do es burg
and
als o ,
mo re
radically ,
wh at dis t ances h im
f ro m all mo dern arch it ect s :
arch it ect ure,
h e
s t at ed,
is co n-
demned t o
vo lume,
it s
"co rpo realit y "
is it s
curs e,
it s ad-
vers e
des t iny .
T h e
o nly
s o lut io n is f o r it t o be "as
planar
as
po s s ible."
It co uld
no t ,
in
any event ,
avo id
pers pect ive
o r
abando n all "nat uralis m.""35
T h e t h ird t h es is o f "Het
bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde"
was
linked t o t h e ent ire
met aph y s ics
o f
neo plas t icis m: by being
clo s ed in it s es s ence
(becaus e
it
alway s
remains a
s h elt er),
t h e
building
is
o ppo s ed
t o
s pace,
t o t h e
"co nt inuit y
o f
s pace"
ment io ned
by
van der
Leck;
it remains a
t h ing
apart . B y co nt ras t ,
t h e aim o f
neo plas t icis m
in all it s do -
mains was an abs o lut e "neut ralizat io n" o f all
o ppo s it io n,
a
dis s o lut io n o f
every part icular t h ing
int o t h e wh o le.
Fro m t h is
readjus t ment
o f t h e ideas o f van
Do es burg
and
van der Leck s t em t wo
preo ccupat io ns
es s ent ial t o t h e t h e-
o ret ical wo rk o f Mo ndrian: t h e int eres t h e acco rded t o t h e
int erio r
(and
t h is int eres t is no t
s imply t h eo ret ical);
and t h e
my t h , increas ingly
ins is t ent in h is
writ ings ,
o f a dis s o lut io n
o f art in lif e. We will s ee t h at t h es e t wo
preo ccupat io ns
are
linked.
T o end wit h t h e
ques t io n
o f
"applicat io n,"
let us no t e t h at
Mo ndrian
alway s
declared h ims elf a s ubs criber t o t h e no -
t io n o f t h e
s pecif icit y
o f t h e
art s ,
even
go ing
s o f ar as t o
prais e
t h e new arch it ect ure becaus e it "excludes
paint ing
and
s culpt ure,
f o r it is no w
widely
admit t ed t h at if each
o ne did no t
perf ect
it s elf
s eparat ely ,
all wo uld
degenerat e
int o deco rat ive o r
applied
art ."'36
Mo ndrian s eemed als o t o
h o ld t o t h e idea o f t h e co mmo n deno minat o r o f arch it ec-
t ure and
paint ing (t h e s urf ace)
as it h ad been f o rmulat ed
by
van der Leck: t h is co mmo n deno minat o r
(t h e planar)
co uld
permit ,
s h o uld t h e o ccas io n
aris e,
t h e unio n o f t h es e
t wo
plas t ic do mains ,
becaus e it was co ncerned no t wit h a
s uperf icial applicat io n
but wit h a co mmo n ro o t o f t h e t wo
art s .
We mus t nevert h eles s
reco gnize
t h at Mo ndrian
-
like van
Do es burg
-
as I h ave
already
alluded
t o ,
did no t res is t t h e
t empt at io n
t o es t ablis h a
h ierarch y
o f t h e art s . At t h e
very
end o f h is art icle "De
Realis eering
van h et Neo -Plas t i-
cis me,"
h e
added,
in
ef f ect ,
t h at h e h ad
judged
arch it ec-
t ure
f ro m
t h e
po int o f
view
o f paint ing, co ncluding
t h us :
"T h e Neo -Plas t ic aes t h et ic
o riginat ed
in
paint ing,
but o nce
f o rmulat ed,
t h e
co ncept
is valid
f o r
all t h e
art s ."37
T h is
af f irmat io n,
a t rue
co up
de
f o rce, is , h o wever,
in co nt radic-
t io n wit h
any
idea o f
s pecif icit y ,
t h at is t o
s ay ,
wit h t h e
po int
o f
depart ure
o f t h e De
St ijl gro up.
It s h o uld be no t ed
t h at almo s t all t h e members o f De
St ijl
f o llo wed t h e s ame
develo pment :
f irs t inclined t o ward
co llabo rat io n, by
virt ue
o f a co mmo n deno minat o r
amo ng
t h eir
pract ices ,
t h e ar-
ch it ect s and t h e
paint ers
decided lit t le
by
lit t le t o wo rk
alo ne,
but
precis ely
and
parado xically
becaus e
t h ey
co uld
no t
res pect
t h e
"s pecif icit y "
o f t h eir
do main,
becaus e
t h ey
co uld no t be
prevent ed
f ro m
t res pas s ing
o n t h at o f t h eir
neigh bo r.
T h us it was in 1922 t h at Mo ndrian s eemed t o
abando n,
wh at ever h e s aid t o t h e
co nt rary , any
idea o f co l-
labo rat io n, declaring
t h at "t h e
arch it ect ,
t h e
s culpt o r,
and
109
as s emblage 4
t h e
paint er
f ind t h eir es s ent ial
ident it y
in co llabo rat io n o r
are all unit ed in a
s ingle pers o n,"38
t h e las t
part
o f t h e
s t at ement
clearly co nt radict ing
t h e
principle
o f t h e divis io n
o f labo r t o wh ich h e h ad earlier s ubs cribed. T h is co nt ra-
dict io n s t emmed wit h o ut
any
do ubt f ro m t h e s ens e o f de-
cept io n pro vo ked
in Mo ndrian
by
t h e arch it ect ure o f h is
t ime,
as
manif es t ed,
f o r
example,
in t h e at t it ude o f Oud
t o ward
neo plas t icis m: "T o day ,
becaus e t h e arch it ect is no t
an
art is t ,
h e is unable t o creat e t h e new
beaut y ,"
h e wro t e
in
1925.39
We mus t no w
analy ze
t h e
h is t o ry
o f t h is
decept io n.
Agains t
Funct io nalis m in Arch it ect ure
Wh en Mo ndrian
began
t o as s emble h is s cat t ered ideas o n
arch it ect ure,
in t h e celebrat ed
"t rialo gue,"
as h e called
it ,
"Nat uurlijke
en abs t ract e realit eit "
[Nat ural realit y
and ab-
s t ract
realit y ],
h e at t ribut ed a kind o f unco ns cio us
s co uring
f o rce t o
pract ical neces s it y
in
o rdinary
arch it ect ure: "We
s ee
pure beaut y aris ing
o f it s o wn acco rd in arch it ect ural
s t ruct ures built f o r
ut ilit y
and f ro m
neces s it y :
in
h o us ing
co mplexes , f act o ries , wareh o us es ,
et c. B ut as s o o n as 'lux-
ury ' ent ers ,
o ne
begins
t o t h ink o f
'art ,'
and
pure beaut y
is
co mpro mis ed.
"40 A f ew mo nt h s bef o re Le Co rbus ier was t o
invent t h e
"go o d s avage"
o f mo dern arch it ect ure in h is art i-
cles f o r
L'Es prit No uveau,
Mo ndrian s aid o f t h e
engineer
t h at h e was
(wit h o ut kno wing it )
in advance o f t h e art is t .
"So
lo ng
as we are
incapable
o f co ns cio us aes t h et ic
plas t ic
expres s io n,
it is bet t er t o devo t e o ur at t ent io n t o
ut ilit y ,"
h e
wro t e in
"Realit eit ."'41
And Mo ndrian acclaimed
o bject s
o f
neces s it y , exact ly
as Le Co rbus ier wo uld do : "A
s imple
drinking cup
is beaut if ul and s o is an aut o mo bile o r an
airplane.'"42
T h ere
is ,
o f
co urs e, no t h ing very o riginal
in
t h is
f o rmulat io n;
it is a
co mmo nplace
o f t h e
epo ch .
Writ -
ing s h o rt ly
af t er
Mo ndrian,
in t h e s ame
t erms ,
and draw-
ing
h is
s uppo rt direct ly
f ro m t h e t ext s o f Le
Co rbus ier,
van
Do es burg
advanced h is
plea
o n beh alf o f a "mech anical"
aes t h et ic and ref ut ed t h e "Go t h ic"
argument s
o f
B erlage.43
Mo re
int eres t ing
is t o s ee h o w Mo ndrian lit t le
by
lit t le de-
t ach ed h ims elf f ro m t h is "f unct io nalis t " vis io n. T h e f irs t
t ext t h at h e devo t ed
exclus ively
t o
arch it ect ure,
t h e t wo -
part
"De
Realis eering
van h et
Neo -Plas t icis me,"
dat ed f ro m
1922. Dedicat ed t o t h e
ques t io n
o f t h e "f unct io n" o f arch i-
t ect ure,
o f it s
pract ical
neces s it ies and t ech nical
pro blems ,
t h e art icle
grew direct ly
o ut o f a
lo ng epis t o lary
debat e be-
t ween t h e art is t and
J. J.
P. Oud
(t h en
in t h e
pro ces s
o f
breaking
wit h van
Do es burg
becaus e o f t h e lat t er's int ru-
s io ns int o t h e do main o f
arch it ect ure).
Els ewh ere Mo n-
drian t h anked h is f riend f o r
h aving h elped h im, t h ro ugh
h is
let t ers ,
t o ref lect o n
arch it ect ure.44
T h is
co rres po ndence
mus t be examined in
det ail,
becaus e in it is revealed t h e
ent ire
genes is
o f Mo ndrian's arch it ect ural
t h eo ry .
Every t h ing began,
in f act , wit h a lect ure
by
Oud ent it led
"Over de T o eko ms t e B o uwkuns t en h are
Mo gelijkh eden,"
given
in
February
1921 and
publis h ed
t h e
f o llo wing June.
Oud's
t ext , immediat ely
t rans lat ed int o German and t wo
y ears
lat er int o French , under t h e t it le "L'Arch it ect ure de
demain et s es
po s s ibilit 6s arch it ect o niques ,"
was t o
gain
co ns iderable at t ent io n.45 It art iculat ed, do ubt les s f o r t h e
f irs t
t ime, wh at was t o beco me t h e credo o f t h e arch it ect s
belo nging
t o wh at is no w called t h e Int ernat io nal
St y le. If
mo s t o f Oud's t h es es s eem
t o day ext remely banal, it is
pre-
cis ely
becaus e
t h ey
were
immediat ely
t aken
up by every
arch it ect o f t h e Mo dern
Mo vement , and becaus e, abo ve
all,
h is t ext
ant icipat ed by
a number o f
y ears
t h e
mult ipli-
cat io n o f manuals and manif es t o es
pro duced by
t h e arch i-
t ect s o f t h e 1920s . Oud deno unced t h e anach ro nis m o f
co nt empo rary
arch it ect ure wit h
regard
t o it s t ech nical
po s -
s ibilit ies
(wh ile, by co nt ras t ,
t h e
engineers
knew h o w t o
explo it
t h e new mat erials s uch as
glas s
o r
met al).
He de-
cried t h e
lepro s y
o f
o rnament ,
s ince it s
o rigins
t h e verit able
s ign
o f t h e decadence o f arch it ect ure. And h e art iculat ed
t h e need f o r a
t rans parent arch it ect ure, in t h e do uble s ens e
t h at arch it ect ure s h o uld no
lo nger
s eek t o h ide it s co n-
s t ruct io n,
"beaut if ul in
it s elf ,"
and
t h at , ut ilizing glas s
in
wide, glazed bay s ,
it s h o uld
o pen
it s elf t o t h e
ligh t .
No t h -
ing
is mo re co mmo n t o t h e h is t o rian o f t h is
perio d
t h an
t h es e
maxims ;
in
any event ,
Oud inno vat ed les s in t h e
ideas t h ems elves t h an in t h eir
co njugat io n.
B ut wh at is les s
kno wn,
and wh at s eems t o h ave
es caped
even
Mo ndrian,
is t h e
s imilarit y
o f
language
bet ween t h is t ext
by
Oud and
t h e f irs t art icles
by
t h e
paint er. (Oud
even
s peaks
o f t h e
"t ragic,"
a
principal co ncept
o f
neo plas t icis t t h eo ry .)
T h e
arch it ect was
vis ibly
a
great
reader o f Mo ndrian
during
t h is
perio d;
wh ence Mo ndrian's o wn as t o nis h ment in dis co ver-
ing
t h at Oud did no t ment io n
neo plas t icis m
in h is lect ure.
110
B o is
5. J. J. P.
Oud, Spangen VIII,
Ro t t erdam,
1921. Oud's ref us al
o f h is co lo ris t ic
des ign
f o r t h is
h o us ing co mplex pro mpt ed
van
Do es burg
t o break wit h t h e
arch it ect .
Ins t ead, t aking up
an idea t h at h ad been dear t o h im f ro m
1916,
Oud made o f cubis m o ne o f t h e s o urces o f t h e ar-
ch it ect ure o f t h e f ut ure.46 Even
t h o ugh
h e ch aract erized it
as "t h e
t ragic image
o f an
epo ch
in
t rans it io n,"
Oud wro t e
t h at cubis m led t o an art t h at was
"es s ent ially pict o rial"
-
a ch aract erizat io n f o llo wed
by
a
des cript io n
t h at evo ked
neo plas t icis m
mo re t h an it did cubis m.
Cubis m,
h e
avo wed,
was an art wh o s e wo rks "lo s e t h eir
righ t
t o exis t
as
paint ings
but
gain
a co ns iderable int eres t in
ant icipat -
ing
t h e ro le t h at co lo r will
play
in t h e arch it ect ure o f
t o mo rro w.
"47
"Allo w me o ne
remark,"
wro t e Mo ndrian t o t h e
arch it ect ,
"y o u
writ e
very prudent ly
o f a new
art , purer,
t h at is in t h e
pro ces s
o f
develo ping
o ut o f cubis m. Wo uld it no t h ave
been bet t er t o
clearly
def ine
neo plas t icis m
as t h e
principle
o f all art is t ic
expres s io n (at
t h is
epo ch ).
. . . Yo u wo uld
h ave even been able t o remain o ut s ide t h e
argument by
ref erring s imply
t o
my bro ch ure,
wh ere I h ave t rans f erred
t h e
principles
o f N.P. t o
arch it ect ure."48
Mo ndrian,
we
no t e,
s t ill
t h o ugh t
t h at a
t rans f erral
o f t h e
principles
o f
neo plas t icis m
t o arch it ect ure was
po s s ible.
A lit t le lat er in
t h e
co rres po ndence,
h e wo uld
s ay
h e did no t unders t and
t h at Oud did no t
accept
an
applicat io n
o f t h es e
principles
t o B o uwkuns t .49 He
s t ill,
s o me mo nt h s
lat er,
even dreamed
o f
being
able t o
put
t h es e
principles
int o
pract ice h ims elf :
"Even as
y o u
like
my paint ing (wh ich
is a clo s e
eno ugh
ref lect io n o f
neo plas t icis m
in
paint ing), s o ,
I
h o pe, y o u
wo uld like a
building
o f mine
-
if
o nly
I co uld realize
it ."750 B ut h e was
gradually
t o abando n s uch f ant as ies o f
immediat e
applicat io n,
and h is
co rres po ndence
wit h Oud
mus t h ave co unt ed f o r
s o met h ing
in t h is evo lut io n. Wh at -
ever t h e
cas e,
t h e arch it ect h ad do ubt les s
res po nded
t o
Mo ndrian's
repro ach es
wit h an init ial
jus t if icat io n
o f t h e
kind, "neo plas t icis m
is
impo s s ible
in arch it ect ure f o r
prac-
t ical reas o ns ." Mo ndrian anno unced t o
Oud,
indeed wit h
a cert ain
jubilat io n,
t h at h e s eemed t o h ave f o und t h e t h e-
o ret ical s o lut io n f o r t h eir dif f erence:
Af t er
h aving
read
y o ur let t er,
I
s uddenly
unders t o o d wh ere t h e
dif f icult y
was . We can be
pure o nly
if we s ee arch it ect ure
[bo uwkuns t ]
anew as art
[kuns t ].
It is
o nly
as art t h at it can
f ully
res po nd
t o t h e aes t h et ic demands o f
neo plas t icis m. Arch it ect ure,
o r,
abo ve
all,
t h e 'co ns t ruct io n and
co lo ring'
t h at mus t be acco m-
plis h ed
f o r t h at wh ich is
already exis t ant ,
can be
purif ied by
t h e
111
as s emblage
4
6. T h eo van
Do es burg, ph o t o -
mo nt age
o f vario us views o f
t h e mo del f o r a Mais o n d'art -
is t e h e realized and exh ibit ed
wit h Co rnelis van Ees t eren at
t h e Galerie de "L'Ef f o rt Mo d-
erne," 1923
GALERIE "L'EFFORT MODERNE"
Lt ONCE
ROSENB EIt G
19, Rue de La B aume
-
Paris
(vxxi~)
rez-de-ch aus s de
Les Arch it ect es du
Gro upe
"
de
St y l"
(HOLLuNDE)
PROJET S ET
MAQUET T ES PAR
T HQO VAN DOESB URG, C. VAN
EEST EREN, HUSZAR
W. VAN
LEUSDEN, J-J. P.
OUD, G.
RIET VELD,
MIES VAN DER
ROHE, WILS.
Expo s es
du 15 Oct o bre au 15 No vembre 1923
de 10 h . & 12 h . et de 14 h . - 17 h . 30 INVIT AT ION
(dimanch es et
f dt es except is )
7. Invit at io n f o r De
St ijl's
arch it ect ural s h o w in Paris ,
1923
N.P. but
s carcely
mo re.
Cert ainly
no t at t ain
beaut y .
T h e Neo -Pl.
demands t o o
much ,
and t h is is no t
y et po s s ible
becaus e men are
no t
y et ready .
Yo ur lect ure was t h eref o re
very go o d,
in t h is
s ens e,
co ncerning
co ns t ruct io n
[h et bo uwen],
and in
general y o u
wo uld
be
righ t
t o co nt inue
wo rking
in t h is
way .
Let us call
t h is ,
f o r
example,
'Arch it ect uur' and t h e o t h er 'B o uwkuns t '
(t h is
dis t inc-
t io n is
po s s ible
bet ween
us ,
but I t h ink t h at t h e t wo h ave t h e
s ame
meaning, t h us , o f f icially ,
it is no t
po s s ible).
. . . T h e s o lu-
t io n is t o be f o und in t h is dis t inct io n t h at I
make,
t h is eliminat es
t h e
dif f icult y .
As f o r t h e bo uwkuns t as
kuns t , I already
h ad a
s o lut io n,
and I des cribed it in De
St ill
and in t h e bro ch ure.
[Mo ndrian's emph as is ]51
T h is is an
impo rt ant let t er, des pit e
it s
o bs curit ies ,
becaus e
it enunciat ed f o r t h e f irs t t ime a radical dis t inct io n bet ween
a
"pract ical,"
"us ef ul" arch it ect ure
(co ns t ruct io n,
h et bo u-
wen, arch it ect uur)
and an
experiment al
arch it ect ure
(bo uwkuns t ).
T h is
dis t inct io n,
wh ich Mo ndrian did no t
y et
dare t o f o rmulat e in t h e s ame t erms as Malevit ch
("Arch i-
t ect ure
begins
wh ere t h ere are no
pract ical aims .
Arch it ec-
t ure as
s uch ."),
was es s ent ial f o r t h e evo lut io n o f mo dern
arch it ect ure. 52 We
kno w,
in
ef f ect ,
t h at t h e
audacit y
o f
pure experiment at io n,
t h at t h e elabo rat io n o f t h eo ret ical
mo dels
(s uch
as t h e t wo f inal
pro ject s
t h at T h eo van Do es -
burg
and
Co rnelis
van Ees t eren
realized
f o r t h e exh ibit io n
o f
De
St ijl
arch it ect s at t h e Galerie de
"L'Ef f o rt
Mo derne"
in
1923)
did as
much ,
if no t
mo re,
f o r t h e evo lut io n o f t h e
"pract ical"
arch it ect ure o f t h is
cent ury
as t h e demands o f
neces s it y .
J. J.
P. Oud f elt h ims elf
co ndemned,
if no t
excluded, by
s uch a dis t inct io n bet ween t wo
t y pes
o f arch it ect ural
wo rk,
and ref us ed it
cat ego rically :
"I am co nvinced t h at o ne
s h o uld co ns t ruct
no t h ing
t h at
-
in o ne s ens e o r ano t h er
- is no t
art ,"
h e
res po nded
t o Mo ndrian.53 Cert ainly ,
Mo ndrian
replied,
but t h en
neo plas t icis m
will never be
reach ed t h is
way :
"T h e s o -called
pract ice
co uld never
pro -
duce an arch it ect ure as N.P.
Only
an
ent irely
new
pract ice
co uld do t h is . And t h is
pract ice
is
co mplet ely
inacces s ible
t o us in t h e
pres ent
circums t ances ." And earlier in t h e
s ame
let t er,
Mo ndrian reaf f irmed t h at
"co ncerning
t h e dis -
t inct io n t h at I made bet ween
pract ical
and
pure
arch it ec-
t ure,
I do no t t h ink t h at f o r t h e mo ment t h ere is
any
o t h er
s o lut io n."54
Fo r s o me t ime af t er t h is exch ange,
Oud and Mo ndrian
112
B o is
s eemed t o abando n f urt h er dis cus s io n o f t h is
po int . Oud,
in
f act ,
h ad
jus t quarrelled
wit h van
Do es burg,
and as
t h eir
s h arp argument
h ad
begun
af t er t h eir co llabo rat io n
o n an arch it ect ural
pro ject ,
it is
pro bable
t h at Mo ndrian
(wh o
nevert h eles s t o o k van
Do es burg's part )
did no t want
t o wo rs en
t h ings .
He even t ried t o reco ncile t h e arch it ect
and t h e f o under o f De
St ijl,
but
apparent ly pref erred
t o
leave o n o ne
s ide, pro vis io nally
at
leas t ,
t h e
burning
is s ue
o f arch it ect ure. T h e dis cus s io n was renewed af t er t h e
pub-
licat io n o f an int erview t h at Mo ndrian h ad acco rded a
Dut ch
jo urnalis t ,
in wh ich h e
declared,
"In
Ho lland,
t h ere
are no
lo nger any
art is t s wh o like and f o llo w
my
wo rk."55
T h o ugh
h e ment io ned van
Do es burg (t h en
in
Weimar)
and
Vant o ngerlo o (t h en
at
Ment o n),
Mo ndrian made no
allus io n t o Oud: "I s t ill do no t
kno w,
in
ef f ect ,"
Mo ndrian
wro t e t o
h im,
"if
y o u
are in
agreement
wit h me and if
aes t h et ically y o u
s earch in t h e s ame direct io n. . . t h is is
wh y
I did no t cit e
y o u."56
As
early
as t h e
appearance
o f t h e f irs t
part
o f "De Reali-
s eering
van h et
Neo -Plas t icis me,"
Oud h ad
explained
h is
react io ns t o h is f riend. He did no t want t o limit h ims elf t o
neo plas t icis m,
h e s aid
(jus t
as
lat er,
in
1925,
h e wo uld
s ay
t h at h e did no t wis h t o limit h ims elf t o t h e f unct io nalis t
credo o f t h e Mo dern Mo vement in
arch it ect ure,
o f wh ich
h e h ad been o ne o f t h e
principal art is ans ).57
T h e s t at ement
pro vo ked
Mo ndrian's wrat h . No t t o want "t o be limit ed t o
neo plas t icis m"
was no t t o unders t and
it ,
Mo ndrian wro t e
in s ubs t ance
("B y
t h is
limit at io n,
I do no t f eel
my s elf
inf e-
rio r
-
o n t h e
co nt rary ,
it is
my s t rengt h "),
becaus e t h e
principles
o f
neo plas t icis m
did no t admit o f limit at io n.
58
His next let t er clarif ied t h e
paint er's t h o ugh t s
a lit t le mo re:
"Neo plas t icis m
is in advance o f us becaus e it is
ent irely
pure.
T h is is t h e reas o n
wh y
it do es no t need t o
ch ange,
and canno t do it .
Only
it s realizat io n can evo lve."59
Oud h ad
by
t h en read t h e s eco nd
part
o f Mo ndrian's
t ext ,
and h ad
cert ainly
made kno wn t o t h e
paint er
h is views o n
t h e
ques t io n
o f
t ech nique.
Mo ndrian
res po nded,
"All t h es e
t ech nical dif f icult ies
y o u s peak
abo ut canno t debas e t h e
plas t ic idea, but ,
o n t h e
co nt rary , t h ey
co ns t ruct it .
...
B ut if
y o u
wait in o rder t o
accept
t h e
t rut h , y o u
will lo s e
y o urs elf
in
t ech nique
alo ne.'"60
T h ere were t h us f o r Mo n-
drian t wo
po s s ible
at t it udes in t h e f ace o f co ns t ruct io nal
t ech nique:
an act ive at t it ude
(wh ich
wo uld
o blige
t ech -
nique
t o renew it s
met h o ds ,
t o
impro ve
it s elf
by
new in-
vent io ns
t h at ,
in
ret urn,
wo uld
enlarge
t h e
po s s ibilit ies
o f
t h e
"plas t ic idea")
o r a
pas s ive
at t it ude
(t o
f o llo w in t h e
wake o f
t ech nique),
a s t ance t h at h eld no int eres t f o r h im.
T h eo van
Do es burg
was t o f o rmulat e t h e s ame idea t wo
mo nt h s lat er.61
Again
Oud s h o wed h is irrit at io n. T h e t o ne
o f t h e let t ers bet ween t h e t wo f riends
grew increas ingly
s h arp.
In t h e
f o llo wing let t er,
Mo ndrian
wro t e,
"It is evi-
dent t h at
neo plas t icis m
s h o uld
envis age
a unio n bet ween
t ech nique
and
aes t h et ics ;
t h is is als o t h e idea o f N. P.
T h at
y o u
end
up
in
af f irming
t h e
o ppo s it e
is f o r me an
enigma."
And h e added t h at it was us eles s t o co nt inue t o
co rres po nd
o n t h e
ques t io n
o f arch it ect ure: "We no w kno w
mo re o r les s o ur
recipro cal po int s
o f view and we s h o uld
let t ime do it s
wo rk.'"62
Oud, nevert h eles s ,
co uld no t
prevent
h ims elf f ro m
reo pen-
ing
t h e
debat e,
in a let t er o f recriminat io n o n an
ent irely
dif f erent
s ubject (a pict ure
t h at h e wis h ed t o
buy
f ro m
Mo ndrian).
Af t er
h aving
accus ed van
Do es burg
o f
every
s in,
and
h aving s t igmat ized
"h is des t ruct ive arch it ect ural
pro ph es ies ,"
Oud wro t e: "Yo ur lif e is t o
paint ,
mine t o
co ns t ruct ."63 Co nf ro nt ed wit h t h is laco nic
ph ras e
Mo n-
drian was
f labbergas t ed, t h o ugh
it in no
way
co nt radict ed
t h e
analy t ic pro gram
o f De
St ijl
at it s
incept io n,
t o wh ich
t h e
paint er
h ad s ubs cribed. "I do no t kno w h o w
y o u
arrive
at t h e t radit io nal idea o f
s eparat ing
co ns t ruct io n and
paint -
ing!"
cried Mo ndrian
-
wh o s aid h e did no t unders t and
eit h er t h e
pers is t ence
o f t h e t ech nical
argument s
advanced
by
Oud
agains t neo plas t icis m
in arch it ect ure
-
"wh en I
h ave do ne
every t h ing
t o
explain
t o
y o u
t h at
my
ideas will
be
po s s ible
in t h e
f ut ure.'"64
T h is
s us pended
t h e
co rres po n-
dence bet ween t h e t wo f riends f o r
nearly
a
y ear,
and def in-
it ively
clo s ed t h e dis cus s io n o f t h es e
ques t io ns .
Let us no w ret urn t o t h e art icle aro und wh ich t h is co rre-
s po ndence
was
wo ven,
Mo ndrian's "De
Realis eering
van
h et Neo -Plas t icis me." T h e f irs t
part ,
wh ich h e h ad ch arac-
t erized f o r Oud as
"idealis t ,"65 was in s o me
way
a
s ummary
o f h is
t h eo ry
abo ut t h e co nt ext o f lif e as a
wh o le,
t h e f unc-
t io n o f art in
s o ciet y ,
t h e "uns h akable evo lut io n" o f h uman
civilizat io n. Mo ndrian elabo rat ed f irs t o n t h e
"met ro po lis ,"
t h e dreamland and
breeding gro und
o f
mo dernit y ,
but als o
113
as s emblage
4
o n t h e "liberat io n o f labo r
by
t h e
mach ine,"
o n t h e
pro vi-
s io nally react io nary
ro le o f "t h e
mas s es ,"
o n t h e dialect ical
neces s it y
f o r des t ruct io n in
every
h is t o rical
pro ces s .
He s e-
rio us ly
crit icized t h e
co ncept io n
o f art as a
luxury ,
wh ich
h e
replaced
wit h t h at o f art as
s urro gat e: "T h ro ugh o ut
t h e
cent uries ,
art h as been t h e
s urro gat e reco nciling
man wit h
h is o ut ward
lif e.'"66
He
develo ped
at
lengt h
t h e
(my t h ical)
t h eme o f t h e end o f
art ,
o f it s dis s o lut io n in
lif e,
and t h is
was t h e
o nly
t h eme wit h in wh ich h e evo ked arch it ect ure: it
will be
f o unded,
Mo ndrian
s t at ed,
in t h e s ame
way
as
paint ing, s culpt ure,
and t h e deco rat ive
art s ,
in a much vas -
t er
t o t alit y ,
a new
cat ego ry ,
"arch it ect ure-as -enviro nment ."
B ut t h is wo uld co ncern
o nly
t h e f ut ure. "T h e end
[o f art ]
no w wo uld be
premat ure.
Since it s
reco ns t ruct io n-as -lif e
is
no t
y et po s s ible,
a new art is s t ill
neces s ary .'"67
Art ,
includ-
ing neo plas t icis t paint ing,
was indeed a
s urro gat e
f o r Mo n-
drian. He co ncluded
-
a direct ech o o f h is
lo ng epis t o lary
dis put e
wit h Oud
-
wit h an evaluat io n o f cubis m as an
art o f t h e
pas t
and wit h a
h o mmage
t o van
Do es burg
as
t h e f o under o f t h e De
St ijl gro up.
In t h e
s eco nd, "pract i-
cal"
part
o f "De
Realis eering,"
Mo ndrian ent ered immedi-
at ely
int o t h e
s ubject
anno unced
by
t h e f ull t it le o f t h e
art icle: "T h e Realizat io n o f Neo -Plas t icis m in t h e Dis t ant
Fut ure and in Arch it ect ure
T o day ."
He rais ed
many
kinds
o f
pro blems
- t o wh ich we s h all ret urn
-
including
t h e
"po int
o f view" o f t h e
"s pect at o r"
in
arch it ect ure,
and t h e
o ppo s it io n
o f t h e
neo plas t ic
wo rk o f art wit h t h e unh ar-
mo nio us
t o t alit y
o f t h e ext erio r enviro nment . B ut t h e es -
s ent ial t ext addres s ed t h e
ques t io ns
t h at Mo ndrian h ad
dis cus s ed wit h Oud and was int ended as a direct
res po ns e
t o t h e arch it ect 's
"o bject io ns ."
If Mo ndrian
abando ned,
as
h e h ad
f o res een,
t h e t o o s ubt le dis t inct io n bet ween arch i-
t ect uur and
bo uwkuns t ,
it is becaus e
t h ro ugh
h is co rre-
s po ndence
wit h Oud h e h ad f o und a bet t er s o lut io n: t h e
bo uwen
belo nged
t o t h e wo rld o f t h e
us ef ul,
t h e bo uw-
kuns t t o t h e wo rld o f art . "So me
[arch it ect s ]
were
t ruly
co nvinced o f t h e
neces s it y
o f a new
arch it ect ure,"
wro t e
Mo ndrian, ref erring
t o h is f riend's
lect ure,
but
t h ey
"do ubt
t h e
po s s ibilit y
t h at t h e Neo -Plas t ic idea can ach ieve real-
izat io n-as -arch it ect ure
t o day ."
We s h o uld no t e t h is
t o day ,
already
included in t h e
t it le,
wh ich carries in it s elf t h e es -
s ent ial co nt radict io n o f h is t ext : "T h e arch it ect
t o day
lives
at t h e level o f t h e
'pract ical-building' [o f bo uwen]
-
f ro m
wh ich art is excluded. T h us if h e is
res po ns ible
t o Neo -
Plas t icis m at
all,
h e
expect s
t o realize it
direct ly
in t h at
kind o f
building [bo uwen].
B ut
...
Neo -Plas t icis m h as
f irs t t o be creat ed as t h e 'wo rk o f art '
[kuns t werk]."68
In
s um,
t h e arch it ect is t o o
bus y , des iring
immediat e s o lu-
t io ns .69
Acco rding
t o
Mo ndrian,
t wo
po s s ibilit ies
remained
o pen
t o h im.
T h e
f irs t was f o r t h e arch it ect t o abando n all
as pirat io ns
f o r
ut ilit y
and t o s t rive t o co ns t ruct h is
building
as a wo rk
o f
art in
it s elf
T h is was a
neces s ary s t age
in t h e evo lut io n o f
arch it ect ure,
an
experiment al pref ace
t o t h e "dis s o lut io n o f
arch it ect ure-as -art " in t h e "enviro nment -as -lif e." B ut t h is
alt ernat ive,
Mo ndrian
admit t ed,
was at t h e t ime almo s t
impo s s ible:
f o remo s t f o r reas o ns t h at were eco no mic
(t h o s e
wh o h ad t h e
po wer
and t h e
mo ney were,
wit h rare
excep-
t io ns ,
h o s t ile t o t h e
new);
but als o becaus e t o
put
an end
t o t h e wo rk o f art
required
a
lo ng preparat io n (we again
enco unt er t h e t erm us ed
by
Mo ndrian in h is
ret ro s pect ive
t ext o f
1942).
An
"experiment al
ins t it ut e" was
needed,
a
t ech nical and f o rmal
labo rat o ry (Mo ndrian
wo uld claim
lat er t h at h e was unaware o f t h e exis t ence o f t h e B auh aus
wh en h e wro t e t h es e
lines ); wh ile, ins t ead,
arch it ect s were
co ndemned t o dream o f t h eir
pro ject s
o n
paper:
"Ho w can
[t h ey ]
s o lve
every
new
pro blem
a
prio ri?"
h e as ked
(a ques -
t io n wh o s e t h eo ret ical
implicat io ns
are
co ns iderable,
s ince
it co ncerns no les s t h an a f undament al crit icis m o f
every
f o rm o f
pro ject io n).
Arch it ect s s h o uld be able t o make
large-s cale
mo dels in wo o d and
met al,
advis ed
Mo ndrian;
a s mall mo no ch ro me
plas t er
mo del t h at s h o wed
o nly
mas s -
ing
was
ridiculo us ly ins uf f icient
f o r an int erio r
pro ject .70
T h e s eco nd
po s s ibilit y o pen
t o t h e arch it ect was t o
co rrect ,
t o day , t aking
int o acco unt t h e
principles
o f
neo plas t icis m,
t h e f ault s o f
exis t ing
arch it ect ure. T h is co ncerned
o nly
t h e
as pect s
o f t h e "Neo -Plas t ic
co ncept io n [t h at ]
can
already
be
realized in current co ns t ruct io n.""71 T h e "all o r
no t h ing"
t h at Mo ndrian as ked o f Oud was no t
recipro cal:
o ne co uld
already int egrat e
cert ain
"as pect s "
o f
neo plas t ic principles
int o arch it ect ure. T h is
was ,
in
f act ,
a co nces s io n t h at
Mo ndrian h ad
grant ed
Oud: t h e
"as pect s "
in
ques t io n
were
precis ely
t h e "t rait s " o f mo dern arch it ect ure lis t ed
by
t h e
arch it ect in h is
lect ure,
t h e mo s t es s ent ial o f wh ich was t h e
abando nment o f o rnament . T o t h is exact
pro po s it io n
114
B o is
Mo ndrian relat ed o nce mo re t h e
my t h
o f t h e
engineer
as
"no ble
s avage"
and o f unco ns cio us ut ilit arian
beaut y :
"Ut ilit arian
o bject s
beco me beaut if ul
t h ro ugh
t h eir bas ic
f o rm,
t h at
is ,
in t h ems elves . Yet
t h ey
are
no t h ing
in t h em-
s elves :
t h ey
beco me
part o f
t h e arch it ect ure
t h ro ugh
t h eir
f o rm and co lo r.""72 Nevert h eles s h e reno unced t h e idea o f
acco rding
an
exclus ively po s it ive
ro le t o
ut ilit y :
"It can
even limit
beaut y ." (T h o ugh
t h e
example
h e
gave
o f t h e
wh eels and circular f o rms o f cert ain mech anical ins t alla-
t io ns in f act o ries
migh t give
ris e t o a
s mile.)
Such f o r Mo ndrian in 1922 were t h e t wo
o pt io ns
o f f ered
t o t h e arch it ect
by neo plas t icis m,
"in
pres ent
circum-
s t ances ." B ut Mo ndrian
did no t
s t o p
h is dis cus s io n
t h ere,
wis h ing precis ely
t o addres s t h es e "circums t ances "
(t h e
t ech nical dif f icult ies invo ked
by Oud)
and f unct io nalis t
t h eo ry . Many as s ert io ns , gent ly co nt radict o ry , punct uat e
t h e
paint er's
t ext at t h is
po int .
T h e f irs t is t h e des ire o f
neo plas t icis m
t o
s eparat e
it s elf f ro m t h e "anat o mical" co n-
cept io n
o f
f unct io nalis m,
a
co ncept
t h at s t res s es t o o much
t h e s t ruct ure o f a
building
and
lay s
claims t o it s co ns t ruc-
t ive
purit y [co ns t ruct iev zuiverh eid];
it was do ubt les s o n t h is
s ubject
t h at Mo ndrian
penned
t h is
enigmat ic
s ent ence t o
Oud: "I believe t h at it is
dangero us
t o s earch
exclus ively
f o r
purit y ."73
On t h es e
lines ,
it is
int eres t ing
t o no t e t h at
Mo ndrian did no t s eem at all advers e t o t h e idea o f a co n-
t es t at io n o f t h e co ns t ruct ive
givens
o f arch it ect ure
by
co lo r
("T h e
co lo r is
s uppo rt ed by arch it ect ure,
o r annih ilat es
it ,
as
required"). 4
Fo r it is kno wn t h at t h e
principal
reas o n
f o r Mo ndrian's declared
h o s t ilit y
t o "element aris m" - t h e
element aris m o f van
Do es burg,
wh ich
dis placed
t h e
righ t
angle
o f
neo plas t icis m
t o
f o rt y -f ive degrees ,
and made a
bundle o f
dy namic o blique
lines o ut o f t h e h o rizo nt als and
vert icals - wo uld be t h at it is
o ppo s ed
t o arch it ect ure.
No w in
1926, s h o rt ly
af t er
h aving o f f icially
t aken h is
po s i-
t io n
agains t element aris m,
Mo ndrian s t res s ed h is ant i-
anat o mical
po s it io n
and even
s po ke
o f t h e need f o r a
co unt er-co ns t ruct io n
(t h e very
t erm was drawn f ro m van
Do es burg)
t h at wo uld
des t ro y
t h e "nat ural
o rganis m"
o f ar-
ch it ect ural co ns t ruct io n: "T h is h as
pres ent impo rt ance,"
h e
added, "becaus e,
in arch it ect ure
als o ,
t h e new mo vement
s o met imes
appears
t o o
quick
t o f o llo w nat ural
o rganis m."75
T h us t h at Mo ndrian was s o
o ppo s ed
t o van
Do es burg
o n
t h is
po int
is uncert ain.
Indeed,
in 1933 h e wro t e t o t h e
arch it ect Alf red Ro t h t h at "t o
give
arch it ect ure an
'o pen'
as pect ,
t h at is
s o met h ing already
s t riven f o r
t o day ,
but t h is
pro blem
can
o nly
be res o lved t o a cert ain
po int by
arch i-
t ect ure
it s elf ,
becaus e o f it s co ns t ruct ive limit at io ns and
ut ilit y . B y
t h e int ro duct io n o f
many windo ws ,
s o me
do o rs ,
by
t h e
placement
o f f urnit ure and
equipment
f o r
ligh t
and
h eat , et c.,
much can be do ne wit h
res pect
t o real co n-
s t ruct io n,
but
wh y
no t make us e o f a f ict ive co ns t ruct io n
t h at reinf o rces real
co ns t ruct io n,
o r els e is
o ppo s ed
t o
it . . .
des t ro y s
it ?"76 In t h is
pro ces s
o f co ns o lidat io n /
de-
s t ruct io n,
t h e act ive ro le is res erved f o r co lo r: "Neo -Plas t ic
arch it ect ure
requires co lo r,
wit h o ut wh ich t h e
plane
can-
no t be a
living realit y
f o r
us .77
Fo llo wing examples
o f new mat erials cit ed in Oud's lec-
t ure
-
iro n,
co ncret e
-
and a
depreciat io n
o f
brick,
t h e
"nat io nal" mat erial o f
Ho lland,
Mo ndrian as s ert ed t h at
"t h e idea . . . t h at s t ruct ure mus t be 'revealed' h as
already
been dis carded
by
'recent
t ech no lo gy .'"'7 Here, t o o ,
t h ere
is s o me co nt radict io n.
Firs t ,
becaus e Mo ndrian
gave
t o ce-
ment and t o met al ant ico ns t ruct ive and ant i-anat o mical
po s s ibilit ies (h e pro po s ed
as an
example,
t h e f lat
ro o f ,
o t h erwis e f avo red
by
t h e t h eo ret icians o f f unct io nalis m f o r
it s "s t ruct ural
t rut h "),
but at t h e s ame t ime h eld t h at brick
remained t h e s lave t o
anat o my (Was
Mo ndrian h ere mak-
ing
an
implicit
ref erence t o
B erlage? No t h ing
is les s cer-
t ain).79 Seco ndly ,
becaus e Mo ndrian als o res t at ed wh at h e
h ad writ t en t o
Oud,
t o t h e ef f ect t h at
t ech nique
s h o uld
f o llo w: "If t h e
plas t ic co ncept
demands t h at t h e s t ruct ure be
neut ralized
plas t ically ,
t h en t h e
way
mus t be f o und t o s at -
is f y
t h e demands bo t h o f s t ruct ure and o f
plas t ic."80
Many
o t h er
ques t io ns
are rais ed in t h is
art icle,
but it s im-
po rt ance
lies in t h e f act t h at f o r t h e f irs t t ime Mo ndrian
was co nf ro nt ed wit h t h e arch it ect ural
t h eo ry
o f t h e zake-
lijkh eid,
o r in German t h e
Sach lich keit ,
wh ich wo uld lead
t o t h e abus e o f t h e Int ernat io nal
St y le.
Mo ndrian did no t
develo p
t h is
po int
af t er "De
Realis eering,"
h e
o nly
rein-
f o rced h is
s us picio n
o f
"ut ilit arianis m,"
a
s imple
"ado rat io n
o f
f unct io n," acco rding
t o t h e
ph ras e
o f T h eo van Do es -
burg."s
Cert ainly ,
Mo ndrian
admit t ed,
mo dern arch it ect ure
is
"purif ied"
under t h e
pres s ure
o f
neces s it y ,
"but wit h o ut
new aes t h et ic
ins igh t
t h is remains
accident al, uncert ain;
o r
it is weakened
by impure ideals , by
co ncent rat io n o n no n-
115
as s emblage
4
es s ent ials "
(1923).82 Or again,
"Int ellect co nf us es int uit io n.
T radit io n als o exert s it s inf luence. Fo r lack o f
plas t ic
un-
ders t anding,
t h e new mat erials are
badly
us ed. Fo r exam-
ple,
reinf o rced co ncret e is us ed t o
pro duce 'f o rm,'
ins t ead
o f
being
us ed
'co ns t ruct ively '
t o creat e a
'co mpo s it io n
o f
planes '
t h at neut ralize o ne ano t h er and
des t ro y limit ing
f o rm"
(1924).83 Finally ,
"At
pres ent ,
I s ee no ch ance o f
ach ieving
a
perf ect plas t ic expres s io n by s imply f o llo wing
t h e s t ruct ure o f wh at we build and
s t udy ing
it s
ut ilit y
alo ne"
(1927).
84
Mo ndrian wo uld maint ain
t h is
po s it io n
unt il h is deat h . He
even
s t res s ed, in h is las t
t ext s ,
t h e dis t inct io n bet ween
pract ical
arch it ect ure "wh ere aes t h et ics h as t o be
largely
ex-
cluded,"8s
and
arch it ect ure-as -art , f earing
t h at t h e abus e o f
f unct io nalis t
t h eo ry
t ended t o
"s uppres s "
aes t h et ic f eel-
ings ."86
Is
t h is t o
s ay
t h at t h e
appeal
t o arch it ect ure and
indus t ry
in Mo ndrian's American
aut o bio graph y
was
o nly
a
rh et o rical
rus e,
a def ens ive
argument ?
Is t h is t o
s ay
t h at
Mo ndrian h ad lo s t all co nf idence in t h e
pract ice
o f arch i-
t ect ure? Wh at t h en are we t o make o f Mo ndrian's o wn
f o ray s
int o t h e arch it ect ural do main? T o ans wer t h es e
ques t io ns ,
we mus t f irs t ret urn t o o ne o f t h e f undament al
axio ms o f Mo ndrian's
t h eo ry
o f
art ,
o ne t h at
es s ent ially
co ncerns t h e f unct io n o f
arch it ect ure,
t h e
pro po s it io n
t h at
art is des t ined f o r "dis s o lut io n" in lif e.
T h e Int erio r as Ers at z
T h e t h eme o f t h e end o f art
was ,
in
f act ,
a
co mmo nplace
o f t h e art is t ic
t h eo ry
o f t h is
cent ury ,
at leas t o f t h e
t h eo ry
o f
every
art is t
belo nging
t o wh at o ne co uld call t h e
"co n-
s t ruct ivis t " branch o f mo dern art .87 T h is t h eme
appeared in
Mo ndrian's
writ ing
as
early
as 1918 and
pers is t ed
t o t h e
end o f h is lif e.88 It was
indubit ably
linked t o h is
(s ket ch y )
reading
o f
Hegel (t o
wh o m
Mo ndrian
made a f ew ref er-
ences ),
o r rat h er o f h is Dut ch
po pularizer,
t h e
ph ilo s o ph er
G. J.
P.
J.
B o lland. T h e
s y ncret ic
s o urces o f
neo plas t icis t
t eleo lo gy
were
very
dif f erent f ro m t h o s e o f Rus s ian co n-
s t ruct ivis m
(f o r
wh ich Marx was a
primary ref erence).
B ut
even
t h o ugh
h is
s t art ing po int
was mo re
t h eo s o ph ical
t h an
mat erialis t ,
Mo ndrian came t o t h e s ame co nclus io ns : neo -
plas t icis m,
like Rus s ian
co ns t ruct ivis m, prepared
f o r t h e
end o f
art ; lat er, (much lat er,
Mo ndrian s o met imes under-
s co red)
t h ere will be no dif f erence bet ween t h e art is t and
t h e
no n-art is t , and,
in t h is
"paradis iac"
f ut ure t o ward
wh ich t h e "uns h akable evo lut io n" o f
h umanit y leads ,
arch it ect ure will no mo re exis t t h an
paint ing
as
art ,
as
a
s eparat e act ivit y .
Arch it ect ure will be
dis s o lved, like
t h e o t h er s o -called
plas t ic art s ,
int o "arch it ect ure-as -
enviro nment ." As f o r t h e les s "mat erial"
art s ,
s aid Mo n-
drian, t h ey
will be
direct ly
"realized" in
every day
lif e.
"Mus ic as
art ,"
f o r
example,
"will co me t o an end. T h e
beaut y
o f t h e s o unds aro und us -
purif ied, o rdered,
bro ugh t
t o t h e new
h armo ny
- will be
s at is f y ing."89
And
Mo ndrian f o res aw t h e s ame f at e f o r
dance,
t h e
t h eat er,
and
lit erat ure.
It is
perh aps
in h is dis cus s io n o f h is
"es ch at o lo gical"
vis io n
in arch it ect ure t h at we can bet t er unders t and t h e reas o ns
f o r t h is
ut o pia.
Fo r we
migh t
as k wh at led a
paint er
-
f o r
wh o m art co ns is t ed in
privileging
t h e mat erial co ns t it uent s
o f
paint ing (f lat nes s ,
t h e
relat io ns h ip
o f t h e f rame t o t h e
co mpo s it io n)
and in
co nt es t ing
cert ain o f t h e f undament al
givens
o f t h e
pict o rial
aes t h et ic t radit io n s ince
ant iquit y
(o ppo s it io n
o f
f igure
and
gro und,
f o r
example)
- we
migh t
as k wh at
pus h ed Mo ndrian,
f o r h is ent ire
lif e,
t o
s h o re
up
h is
pict o rial pract ice
wit h s uch a
my t h o lo gy .
We
will no t
at t empt
t o
give
a
general
and def init ive
explana-
t io n o f t h is
ph eno meno n;
it is mo re t o t h e
po int
t o det er-
mine t h e inf luence o f t h is
es ch at o lo gy
o n Mo ndrian's
arch it ect ural
t h eo ry .
We
can,
in
ef f ect , o nly
be s t ruck
by
t h is s ent ence writ t en
by
t h e
paint er
in
1919:
"Arch it ect ure
alway s pres uppo s es
enclo s ure: t h e
building
s t ands o ut as a
t h ing agains t s pace."90
T h is
"t h ingnes s "
o f
arch it ect ure,
as
o f
any o bject ,
is
precis ely
wh at
neo plas t icis m
wis h es t o de-
s t ro y : "unique beaut y
is t h e
o ppo s it e
o f wh at ch aract erizes
t h ings
as
t h ings ."91
Or
again, "Every t h ing
o ne co nt em-
plat es f o r it s o wn s ake is indeed beaut if ul,
but it h as a
limit ed kind
o f
beaut y .
Wh en we s ee
s o met h ing
as a
t h ing-
in-it s elf ,
we
s eparat e
it f ro m t h e wh o le:
o ppo s it io n
is lack-
ing
-
we no
lo nger
s ee
relat io ns h ips
but
o nly
co lo r and
f o rm. "92
And
wh y
t h is des ire t o abo lis h t h e
t h ingnes s
o f t h e
t h ing?
B ecaus e it is a f o rm o f
s eparat io n,
becaus e t h e
t h ing
"s t ands
agains t ": "Mis ery [o f lif e]
is caus ed
by
co nt inual
s eparat io n."93
Fro m t h is we
begin
t o unders t and t h at t h e
116
B o is
my t h
o f t h e end o f art was o ne o f t h e f o rces t h at
pus h ed
Mo ndrian,
in h is
paint ing,
t o want t o
abo lis h ,
o r abo ve all
"neut ralize,"
t h e
o ppo s it io n f igure/gro und: neo plas t icis m
(o f wh ich ,
f o r
Mo ndrian,
h is
paint ing
was
o nly ,
we mus t
remember,
an
"imperf ect " ref lect io n)
is a
principle
o f
gen-
eralized f us io n.
"My
wo rk do es no t co ns is t
s imply
in t h e
making
o f
t h ings ,"
h e wro t e t o
Oud,
"it is much vas t er
t h an t h at .""
Neo plas t ic paint ing
is
o nly
a
s ubs t it ut e,
"t h e
paint ing
is a s ubs t it ut e f o r t h e
t o t alit y ."95
A
pict ure
is "t h e
mo s t abs t ract
t h ing po s s ible,"
t h e "mo s t direct "
expres s io n
o f t h e "abs t ract "
(all
Mo ndrian's t ext s ins is t o n t h is relat iv-
it y );
but it als o remains a
t h ing
t h at is
"po s ed agains t ."
Fro m wh ence t h e idea o f a f ut ure
dis appearance
o f
paint -
ing
int o t h e
enviro nment ,
o f a f us io n o f eas el
paint ing
int o
t h e "int erio r"
(t h e Ho me,
Mo ndrian called
it ),
o f t h e int e-
rio r int o t h e arch it ect ure o f t h e wh o le
h o us e,
o f t h is int o
t h e
s t reet ,
o f t h e s t reet int o t h e wh o le
cit y . Neo plas t icis m
is a
t o t alizing principle
t h at s uf f ers no limit at io n: it s real-
izat io n,
no
do ubt ,
s uf f ers limit at io ns
impo s ed by pres ent
circums t ances
(t h is
is
wh y
we can and s h o uld s t ill
paint
and,
t o a les s er
degree,
make
arch it ect ure),
but all t h is is
o nly pro vis io nal.
Fro m t h is
s t ems , again,
t h e
way
in wh ich
Mo ndrian
co mplied,
all h is
lif e,
in t h e do mains wh ere cir-
cums t ances allo wed
it ,
t o
principles
elabo rat ed f o r t h e f u-
t ure. T o
give
o ne
example:
we kno w t h at Mo ndrian h ad
f o und in
jazz
an
appro ximat e
"realizat io n" o f
neo plas t icis m
in
mus ic; o nly
h e was
dis pleas ed by
t h e
pres ence
o f a mel-
o dic line. Ch armio n vo n
Wiegand repo rt ed
t h at wh en
Mo ndrian danced in New Yo rk t o t h e
rh y t h m
o f s o me
"bo o gie-wo o gie,"
h e
quickly s t o pped
and ret urned t o h is
s eat wh en t h e
melo dy
became t o o
pregnant .96
T h is
s aid,
Mo ndrian
very
s o o n f o und h ims elf co nf ro nt ed
wit h a t h eo ret ical
pro blem,
wh ich h e res o lved
gradually :
if
t h e
ques t io n
was t o
pro duce
an art t h at
"po s ed
it s elf
agains t "
in t h e leas t
po s s ible way ,
h o w co uld we
jus t if y
t h e
s imple pro duct io n
o f a
neo plas t ic paint ing,
let alo ne envis -
age
a
neo plas t ic
arch it ect ure? Were
t h ey
no t t h ems elves
o ppo s ed
t o t h e
s urro unding enviro nment , des pit e
t h e
"pro gres s " acco mplis h ed by
man in t h e
"met ro po lis "
o n t h e
bas is o f
"capricio us "
nat ure? T o t h is
ques t io n
Mo ndrian
advanced t h ree
t y pes
o f
res po ns e.
T h e
f irs t ,
wh ich co ncerned t h e
paint ing,
was t h e idea o f
"pro duct ive dis h armo ny ":
t h e dis acco rd o f t h e
neo plas t ic
pict ure
wit h it s enviro nment "will
perh aps o pen peo ple's
ey es
t o t h e
pres ent
enviro nment - as it
mo s t ly
is - in all
it s t radit io nalis m and arbit rarines s . "97 T h is no t io n o f
pro -
duct ive
dis h armo ny
was t h en t aken
up
f o r
arch it ect ure,
mo re
precis ely
f o r t h e Ho me: "And t h is is t h e
great
dif f i-
cult y
at
pres ent :
t h e
cit y
is s t ill
unch angeable
in co nt ras t t o
t h e
h o me,
wh ich is
being
renewed. We mus t h ave t h e
s t rengt h
and
co urage
t o
f ace
a
perio d o f dis h armo ny .
Fear-
ing dis h armo ny ,
we f ail t o advance
t o day ;
s t ill
wo rs e,
we
adapt
t o t h e
pas t .
We mus t no t
adapt ,
we mus t creat e."98
Mo ndrian's s eco nd
res po ns e,
wh ich derived f ro m h is
argu-
ment wit h
Oud,
co ncerned t h e
building
o f arch it ect ure
co ns idered as kuns t werk: f o r t h e
mo ment ,
s ince we canno t
co ns t ruct an ent ire
cit y ,
s ince t h o s e wh o h ave t h e
po wer
and t h e
mo ney
unders t and
no t h ing
t h at is
new,
we are
co ns t rained t o limit o urs elves t o is o lat ed
wo rks ,
t o "t h e in-
dividual
building
- wh ich t h en as s ert s it s elf in co nt ras t t o
it s enviro nment ,
t o
nat ure,
t o t radit io nal o r mis cellaneo us
building.'""
"I do no t want t o creat e t h e
h o us e-f o r-it s elf ,"
Mo ndrian wro t e t o
Oud,
"but if
o nly
'o ne h o us e' is
po s s ible,
and no t a
cit y ,
t h en I will make a h o us e-as -
neo plas t icis m.
. . .
Cert ainly
in t h e
lo ng run,
t h e wh o le
will end
up
like it s
part s
and
res po nd
t o
neo plas t icis m."'00
T h e
impo rt ant t h ing
was t h at t h e
neo plas t ic
wo rk s h o uld
be "a
wo rld-in-it s elf ,"
wh ich "abs t ract s " t h e
enviro nment ;
t h at is t o
s ay ,
it s h o uld be
s t ro ng eno ugh
no t t o allo w
any
int erf erence f ro m t h e
ext erio r,
becaus e t h ere can be no
"h armo ny
bet ween nat ure and man's
co ns t ruct io n."''1
T h is
was no
lo nger
a cas e o f
"pro duct ive dis h armo ny ,"
but o f a
ret rench ment f ro m t h e
daily co nt ext ,
even if t h is ret rench -
ment was
pro vis io nal.
T h is
argument
was
clearly
in co nt ra-
dict io n wit h t h e res t o f Mo ndrian's
t h eo ry , o nly
t o be
reco nciled
t h ro ugh
t h e no t io n o f t h e
s urro gat e:
if f us io n in
t h e
grand t o t alit y
was
impo s s ible,
we wo uld
begin by
elab-
o rat ing
micro co s ms t h at wo uld
ult imat ely , by
virt ue o f t h e
"inevit able
evo lut io n,"
be in
h armo ny
wit h t h e wh o le.
Nevert h eles s ,
t h is s eco nd s o lut io n did no t
s at is f y
Mo n-
drian,
and h e t ried t o es t ablis h a t h ird
t y pe
o f
ans wer,
wh ich h e
began
t o f o rmulat e as
early
as 1920.
T h is t h ird
"reply "
co ncerned t h e ent ire
t h eo ry
o f t h e arch i-
t ect ural
int erio r,
a
t h eo ry
t h at Mo ndrian
put
int o
pract ice
117
as s emblage
4
......
.N
..........m
i
--- --
-
---- -
..
... ......
.
8-10. Piet
Mo ndrian, pro ject
f o r a Salo n po ur
Madame
B ...,
a Dres den, 1926;
ex-
-
.plo ded
bo x
plan
and
o blique
pro ject io ns
11. Mo ndrian, mo del f o r t h e
s et o f L'Eph emere es t 4t ernel, a
play by Mich el Seuph o r, 1926
(unexecut ed)
118
12,
13. Mo ndrian's s t udio in
Paris , circa 1926
14. Mo ndrian's s t udio in Paris ,
circa 1930
in h is s t udio s in Paris and New Yo rk and in t h e
pro ject
f o r
a Salo n
po ur
Madame B . . . o f
1926,
as well
as ,
t o a
les s er
degree,
in t h e mo del f o r a t h eat er s et t h at h e realized
t h e s ame
y ear
f o r Mich el
Seuph o r's play L'Eph emere
es t
et ernel.
We will no t
analy ze
t h es e realizat io ns
by
Mo ndrian:
f irs t ,
becaus e
Nancy T ro y
h as
already acco mplis h ed
t h is in a
remarkable
way and, s eco nd,
becaus e it is Mo ndrian's t h e-
o ry
and it s co nt radict io ns t h at int eres t s us h ere.
102
It s h o uld
be
kept
in
mind, h o wever,
wh ile
examining t h is t h eo ry ,
t h at it was no t elabo rat ed in a vacuum but was
co nt inually
put
t o t h e t es t in t h e
"wo rk-in-pro gres s "
t h at in it s elf co n-
s t it ut ed Mo ndrian's at elier.
T h e
po int
o f
depart ure
f o r t h is
t h eo ry
o f t h e int erio r
migh t
be s t at ed t h us : T h e Ho me is
cert ainly o ppo s ed
t o t h e ext er-
nal enviro nment
(argument 1),
but is
by
it s nat ure a
unit y
mo re
eas ily
co nt ro lled t h an t h e wh o le
building;
it is a
wh o le,
a "wo rld-in-it s elf "
(argument 2,
de
f act o ). 103
T h o ugh ideally
we s h o uld no
lo nger
co ns ider t h e Ho me as
a
s eparat e ref uge (t h is
is t h e s ens e o f t h e wh o le o f t h e cele-
brat ed art icle "Le Ho me
-
la Rue
-
la
Cit 6"),
it is never-
t h eles s a clo s ed
t o t alit y t h at ,
as a ro o m enclo s ed
by walls ,
o ugh t
t o be able t o res o lve
direct ly
t h e
ques t io n
o f t h e
art iculat io n
paint ing/arch it ect ure.
T h e f irs t
impo rt ant
t ext
by
Mo ndrian o n t h e int erio r was
included in t h e
lo ng "t rialo gue" "Nat uurlijke
en abs t ract e
realit eit " o f 1919-20. In t h is s eries o f
art icles ,
Mo ndrian
undert o o k a
des cript io n
o f h is
s t udio , by gradually
reveal-
ing,
in a "co nvers at io n" mo deled o n Plat o nic
maieut ics ,
h is
co ncept io n
o f t h e "t o t al" ro o m. T h is
co ncerned,
h e
explained,
t h e art iculat io n o f
s pace:
"A ro o m h as t o be
mo re t h an an
empt y s pace
bo unded
by
s ix
empt y planes
f acing
o ne ano t h er: it mus t be an art iculat ed and t h eref o re
119
as s emblage
4
a
part ially f illed s pace
bo unded
by
s ix art iculat ed
planes
t h at
o ppo s e
o ne ano t h er
by
t h eir
po s it io n, dimens io n,
and
co lo r."'04
T h is was becaus e
s pace,
if no t
f ixed, art iculat ed,
is f o r us
empt y
and "undef ined": T h e idea was t aken f ro m
t h e It alian
f ut uris t s ,
and wo uld be t aken
up again
in an
ext rao rdinarily pro f o und way by
t h e f o unders o f Po lis h
"Unis m,"
Wladis law St rzemins ki and
Kat arzy na
Ko bro .
105
T h is was als o t h e
co ncept io n
o f
s pace
t h at Riet veld wo uld
develo p
in t h e int erio rs o f t h e Sch ro der Ho us e in Ut rech t .
Mo ndrian admit t ed t h at in t radit io nal int erio r arch it ect ure
f urnit ure
already
f unct io ned t o divide
up
t h e
s pace,
but "in
a deco rat ive and
capricio us way ."
In t h e
neo plas t ic int erio r,
every t h ing
s h o uld co nt ribut e t o t h e
h armo ny
o f t h e
wh o le,
wit h no det ail
being privileged
t h at
migh t gain
at t ent io n
by
it s
"individualit y ."
Fo r t h is
reas o n,
Mo ndrian advis ed t urn-
ing pict ures
wit h t h eir f aces t o t h e wall
(at
leas t t h o s e t h at
were no t
neo plas t icis t ),
becaus e in t h is
way
t h eir
rect angu-
lar f o rmat wo uld h armo nize wit h t h e h o rizo nt al/vert ical
rh y t h m
o f t h e arch it ect ure.
Cert ainly ,
h e
ackno wledged,
no t
every t h ing
h ad t o be "made
s quare" (a
dinner
s ervice,
f o r
example,
was
o bvio us ly o bliged
t o h ave cert ain
curves ,
but it wo uld s uf f ice t o h ide it af t er
us e).
106
Mo reo ver, we
co uld no t t rans f o rm
every being
o r
t h ing:
mo dern f as h io n
and
makeup,
wh ich o f f ered s o
many advant ages
as
agains t
"nat ural cult ure,"
co uld no t
y et t o t ally dis guis e
t h e "nat u-
ral"
appearance
o f o ur bo dies .
107
Mo ndrian did no t h ide t h e ext reme dif f icult ies invo lved in
realizing
t h is unbo unded ambit io n t o ward
t o t alizat io n.
He
even co nf es s ed an
inabilit y
t o
give
a
very precis e image
o f
it ,'1s h aving
h ims elf
o nly
dealt wit h
exis t ing arch it ect ure,
wh et h er in h is at elier o r in h is
pro ject
f o r t h e Salo n. 109 He
f urt h ermo re wro t e t o van
Do es burg
o f h is co nvict io n t h at
"t h e int erio r
is
go ing
t o be t h e
t h ing.
B ut
in
t h e f ut ure.
. I am co nvinced t h at we are no w
o nly capable
o f
do ing
it o n
paper,
o n acco unt o f t h es e ro t t en
arch it ect s ,
valet s o f t h e
public.""1
T h e
principal dif f icult y
aro s e f ro m
t h e f act t h at arch it ect s
o nly
co nceived o f t h e ro o m as a
bo x, "a
s pace
bo unded
by
s ix
empt y planes
wit h
o penings
f o r do o rs and
windo ws "; t h ey believed
t h at t h e
pro po rt io ns
o f t h e ro o m alo ne s erved t o render it h abit able: t h is co uld
cert ainly "s at is f y
us at f irs t
glance,
but no t in t h e
lo ng
run. "11
And it was wit h
regard
t o t h is "s ix-s ided bo x" t h at t h e
majo r
co nt radict io ns in
Mo ndrian's
arch it ect ural
t h eo ry
emerged, widening
t h e
gap
bet ween h is
t h eo ry
and
prac-
t ice. We h ave no t ed t h at h e co ns idered t h e
o bligat o ry
vo l-
umet ric co ndit io n o f arch it ect ure t o be
dis as t ro us ; y et
every t h ing
t h at h e h as s aid o n t h e int ernal divis io n o f t h e
ro o m
by
dif f erent
o bject s s eems ,
o n t h e
co nt rary ,
t o s h o w
t h at h e h ad
f inally int egrat ed
arch it ect ural t h ree-dimen-
s io nalit y
int o h is
t h eo ry .
If indeed t h is
lo ng "t rialo gue,"
wh ere Mo ndrian
s po ke
in det ail abo ut h is
co ncept io n
o f
t h e
int erio r,
co ns t it ut ed a clear advance in h is
t h eo ry
o f
arch it ect ural
s pace,
t h e
way
in wh ich h e s eems t o res o lve
t h e
pro blem migh t appear ambiguo us (h e
was in f act t o
ret urn
very quickly
t o h is
previo us ,
ant ivo lumet ric
po s i-
t io ns , mo dif y ing
t h em
s ligh t ly ).
And s ince it was o ver t h is
po int
t h at t h e crit icis ms o f Mo ndrian's arch it ect ural
t h eo ry
f o rmulat ed
by
van
Do es burg
-
and als o
by Lis s it zky
-
s t umbled,
we will co nclude
by examining
it in mo re
det ail.
In December
1918,
in "Het
bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde,"
Mo ndrian s t at ed t h at arch it ect ure was co ndemned t o co r-
po realit y . "It invo lves pers pect ive
vis io n o f it s
relat io ns h ips ,
o r o f s o me o f
t h em,
and t h us
impairs
t h e
pure percept io n
o f
relat io ns h ips .""'2
His
pro po s ed
s o lut io n was t h at "bo t h
arch it ect ure and
s culpt ure
will
gain in purit y by beco ming
planar plas t ic
s o f ar as is
po s s ible.""3
In t h e
"t rialo gue"
o f
1919-20,
Mo ndrian's
t h o ugh t
h ad evo lved
co ns iderbly ,
but
t h e t h eo ret ical s o lut io n was
ext remely f ragile.
"Y"
(t h e
amat eur o f
paint ing)
as ks
"Z" (t h e neo plas t ic paint er)
h o w
h e reco nciled t h e
requirement s
o f
planimet rics
and t h e
"clo s ed" t o t alit y
o f h is
paint ings
wit h t h e
ch anging percep-
t io n
t h at we
migh t
h ave o f an
int erio r, given
t h at we do
no t
perceive
it
"as a wh o le all at o nce." "Z"
res po nds
wit h
t h e
co ncept
o f
int erio r image:
"We
s urvey
t h e ro o m vis u-
ally ,
but
inwardly
we als o f o rm a
s ingle image. T h us ,
we
perceive
all it s
planes
as a
s ingle plane.
...
.
Is n't t h e
t h ree-dimens io nal
unit y [s ic]
o f t h e wall s urf aces
precis ely
a means
wh ereby
we
may
mo ve in s everal dimens io ns in-
wardly ,
t h at
is ,
mo re
deeply ?""4
Mo ndrian h ims elf was unco nvinced
by
t h is
argument ,
and
h e
ret urned,
t wo
y ears lat er,
t o t h e
pro blem
o f arch it ec-
t ural
vo lumet rics , t ry ing
t o
t emper
h is f irs t accus at io ns
120
B o is
15. T h eo
van. Do es burg,
s ket ch
in a let t er t o J. J. P.
Oud, 12
Sept ember 1921
agains t
arch it ect ure
(t h o s e
o f
"pers pect ivit y "):
"T h e en-
t rench ed belief t h at arch it ect ure deals
o nly
wit h t h ree-
dimens io nal
'plas t ic' h elps
t o
explain wh y
t h e
'plane'
expres s io n
o f Neo -Plas t icis m is
regarded
as
impo s s ible
f o r
arch it ect ure.
...
It is t h e
(pers pect ive)
vis io n
o f
t h e
pas t ,
wh ich Neo -Plas t icis m
abo lis h es .""'
T h ere f o llo ws a
s t range
explanat io n:
"T h e new vis io n
(even
bef o re
Neo -Plas t icis m)
do es no t
pro ceed
f ro m o ne f ixed
viewpo int :
it t akes it s
viewpo int every wh ere
and it is no t limit ed t o
any
o ne
po s i-
t io n. It is no t bo und
by s pace
o r t ime
(in
acco rd wit h t h e
t h eo ry
o f
relat ivit y ). Pract ically ,
it t akes it s
po s it io n
in
f ro nt
o f
t h e
plane (t h e
mo s t ext reme
po s s ibilit y
o f
plas t ic
int ens i-
f icat io n).
T h us it
regards
arch it ect ure as a
mult iplicit y o f
planes :
o nce mo re t h e
plane."116
T h is is indeed a co nt ra-
dict o ry s t at ement ,
s ince t h e
mult iplicit y
o f
viewpo int s ,
t h e-
o ret ically claimed,
s erves t o
pro duce
"in
pract ice"
a
s ingle
viewpo int ,
"in f ro nt o f t h e
plane." Des pit e
it s
inco h erence,
t h is is t h e
po s it io n
t h at Mo ndrian was t o h o ld unt il h is
deat h .
Freely t rans lat ing
t h is
pas s age
in an art icle t h at h e
gave
t o L'Arch it ect ure vivant e in
1925,
Mo ndrian
added,
"...
t h us t h e wo rk o f arch it ect ure
appears
as a
mult iplicit y
o f planes ,
no t o f
pris ms ,
as in 'vo lumet ric co ns t ruct io n.'
No r is t h ere
any danger
o f
laps ing
int o
'f a;ade-arch it ec-
t ure,'
it s
ubiquit o us po int
o f view
prevent s
t h is erro r." B e-
caus e it is
exclus ively abs t ract ,
t h is
pluralit y
o f
planes
beco mes a
plane image.1"7
In
s pit e
o f t h e ref erence t o t h e
t h eo ry
o f
relat ivit y (a clich e
o f t h e
t ime),
t h e
mo bilit y
o f t h e
viewpo int
is in no way
int ended t o
pro duce
a
"s pace-t ime co nt inuum,"
s uch as
t h at des ired
by
van
Do es burg.
It do es no t lead t o a mult i-
t ude o f
ch anging
and dif f us e
percept io ns . No t h ing
in t h is
neo plas t ic
int erio r
is
co mparable
wit h t h at bar wh ere
"every t h ing mo ves ,"
wh ich h ad nevert h eles s s educed Mo n-
drian."8 In o ne o f h is las t t ext s , in 1943, Mo ndrian even
reduced mo vement t o a s eries o f
"po s es " and, s imilarly ,
cinemat ic
percept io n
t o a
deco mpo s it io n
o f realit y int o
t wo -dimens io nal
images , s eeing
in t h e vis ual
pro ces s an
o rganic equivalent
t o t h e
ch ro no ph o t o graph ie
o f Et ienne-
Jules Marey : "B y mo ving
aro und
[arch it ect ure
o r s culp-
t ure],
t h e
impres s io n
o f a t wo -dimens io nal
as pect is
direct ly
f o llo wed
by
t h at o f ano t h er t wo -dimens io nal
as pect .
1'9
Needles s t o
s ay ,
t h is
co ncept io n (wh ich
do es no t
s eem,
mo reo ver,
t o
co rres po nd
t o t h e
des cript io ns
t h at Mo ndrian
gave
o f h is
at elier)
is in
perf ect
co nt radict io n wit h all
t went iet h -cent ury
arch it ect ural
t h o ugh t .
As
early
as
1921,
van
Do es burg
h ad unders t o o d t h at t h is
po s it io n
was in
s o me meas ure
abs urd,
and h e wro t e t o Oud:
I am no w
cert ain t h at
paint ing
in t h e
int erio r, i.e.,
in 3 dimen-
s io ns , brings
wit h it
ent irely
dif f erent demands t h an
paint ing
o n a
plane.
T h e int erio r
again brings
t h e t ime element t o
at t ent io n,
and t h e earlier
o rnament alit y (co nt inuo us o rnament , e.g.)
was a
vague,
deco rat ive manner o f
s o lving
t ime and
s pace
as a
unit y .
Since in h is las t art icle Mo ndriaan
co mplet ely
denies t h e t ime
mo ment and want s t o banis h it f ro m
paint ing,
f o r h im 3-dimen-
s io nal
paint ing (i.e., s pace-t ime paint ing)
mus t be
impo s s ible.
He
remains limit ed t o t h e 2-dimens io nal canvas and t h e
at t empt
t o
s o lve a
5-plane s pace
as I wh o le is
impo s s ible
in t erms o f 2-
dimens io nal
paint ing.
T h us wh at Mo ndriaan h as made in h is
at elier wit h co lo red cardbo ard is res t rict ed t o o ne
plane (windo w
plane)
and is t h eref o re als o a
paint ing in
2 dimens io ns
[s ket ch ,
s ee
f igure 15].
...
Mo ndriaan as a man is no t mo dern
becaus e,
in
my o pinio n,
alt h o ugh
h e h as
develo ped ps y ch ically
t o wards t h e
new, s pirit u-
ally
h e
belo ngs
t o t h e o ld.
B y
t h is I mean t h at h e s t ill s ees t h e
s pirit ual
as a
co ncept ual abs t ract io n,
t h us
s o met h ing
like t h e
t h eo s o ph is t s .
Of lif e it s elf as
realit y
h e is in f act af raid. He t h inks
lif e,
but do es no t live it . He makes h is
co ncept io n,
wh ich o f
co urs e is
very go o d,
t o o much abo ut an ideal
image
o ut s ide o f
no rmal lif e. .. .120
As f o r
Lis s it zky ,
h e f o und h ims elf deceived wh en h e dis -
co vered Mo ndrian's
pro ject
f o r t h e Salo n
po ur
Madame
B . . .: "I
expect ed s o met h ing clearer,"
h e
wro t e, "Once
again it
is
really
a s t ill lif e o f a
ro o m,
f o r
viewing t h ro ugh
t h e
key h o le."'12
T h is was t h e s ame
idea,
f o rmulat ed in an-
o t h er
met aph o r,
as t h e
"windo w plane,"
invo ked
by
van
Do es burg.
It is no t t h en
as t o nis h ing
- if o ne t akes acco unt o f Mo n-
drian's ant ivo lumet ric
precept s
- t h at Riet veld h ad been
s us picio us
o f
any
direct
"applicat io n"
o f h is
paint ing
int o
arch it ect ure. No r is it
any
mo re
s urpris ing
t h at h e s h o uld
h ave declared h ims elf
t o t ally
unint eres t ed in Mo ndrian's
arch it ect ural
t h eo ries ,
even
f inding
t h em
unint elligible.
22
And indeed it is dif f icult t o unders t and h o w arch it ect ural
crit icis m h as s o o f t en been able t o invo ke Mies van der
121
as s emblage
4
16.
Appel
de
pro t es t at io n,
publis h ed
in De
St ijl,
1925
Appel
de Pro t es t at io n
co nt re le ref us de la
part icipat io n
du
gro upe
("DE
ST IJL,,
B
l'Expo s it io n
des Art s
D&co rat if s (Sect io n
des
Pay s -B as )
J, al'e
.
a,'rr c,rt iiIt ul,
qt ue
Ir
gio
ElicDE
ST lll, '
at
,l ,apu
'a
pas
a
I'E.rpo .ilio
ds l
.d,'.o "
.I
rt .•
I•
,,t rt if s . I.r
s urr?,u,';
I/,,
ro it r
r,.rexpo .s it io n
i(h ra
J.
Lt IUM.Py s - is
m.11lut 18s adc"r des Pay s -B as
Malgr'
cet
enco uragement
de I'Ambas s adeur des
Pay s -B as
A Paris , le
gro upe
DE
ST IJL
a 6t e ref us e
par la co mmis s io n
g6n&rale
en Ho llande. Au lieu de demo nt rer, co mme les aut res
pay s ,
les t endances des
dif f lrent s
gro upes , la Co mmis s io n
Nier-
landais e a ref us 6 radicalement le
gro upe
DE
ST IJL.
C'es t
po urquo i que la
repres ent at io n
des
Pay s -B as manque
s o n devo ir, elle
ne mo nt re aucun
s igne
de
l'es prit
no uveau dans la Ho llande.
Grace
? une lut t e de
plus ieurs
annees
(des 1916), la pens ee
direct rice du mo uvement DE
ST IJL,
a
gagn la s y mpat h ie
et
I'inf luence dans t o us les
pay s .
Le Direct eur de la revue DE
ST IJL
vo us invit e a
s o us s igner
cet t e Pro t es t at io n et A s o ut enir s o n
pro jet
d'une
expo s it io n
de
s o n
gro upe, au co mmencement de I'h iver 1925.
Kies ler
(Aut rich e) ;
le Co mt e
Kielmans egg (Allemagne) ;
Pro f . St einh o f f (Aut rich e) ;
G. Guevrikian (Pers e)
:
Pro f .
St rnad
(Aut rich e) ;
D.
St ernberg (Rus s ie) ;
Pro f .
J.
Ho f f mann
(Aut rich e) ; Aug.
Perret
(France) ; Marie
Do rmo y
(France) ;
Feuers t ein B edrich
(T ch eco -Slo vaquie) ;
Os w. Haerdt l
(Aut rich e);
Sliwins ki
(Po lo gne);
Ad. Lo o s
(T ch bco -SIo -
vaquie);
T ris t an T zara
(Ro umanie);
G. Ant h eil
(Ambrique);
Kurt Sch wit t ers (Allemagne);
A.
Wegerif -Graves t ein (Pay s -
B as );
Ro b. Mallet -St evens
(France);
Walt er
Gro pius (Allemagne);
F. T . Marinet t i
(It alie);
Kees Kuiler
(Pay s -B as );
C. van
Ees t eren
(Pay s -B as );
G. Riet veld
(Pay s -B as );
V. Hus zar
(Pay s -B as ); Jan
Wils
(Pay s -B as ).
17. J.-F. St aal,
Dut ch Pavilio n,
Expo s it io n
Int ernat io nale des
Art s Deco rat if s , Paris ,
1925
Ro h e t o s h o w t h e inf luence o f Mo ndrian o n t h e arch it ec-
t ure o f t h is
cent ury : wh at ,
we mus t as k as a co nclus io n t o
t h is
s t udy ,
do es t h e f luid
s pace
o f t h e B arcelo na Pavilio n o f
1929,
f o r
example,
s h are wit h t h e f ro zen
planarit y
o f t h e
int erio r as co nceived
by
Mo ndrian?
Epilo gues
T wo t h eat rical s ket ch es t o
co nclude,
t h e f irs t a lit t le dis re-
s pect f ul.
In
1925,
at t h e
Expo s it io n
Int ernat io nale des Art s
D6co rat if s ,
t h e De
St ijl gro up
was excluded f ro m t h e
Dut ch
delegat io n.
T h is was t h e
lo gical co ns equence
o f t h e
campaign waged by
t h e arch it ect s o f t h e Ams t erdam
Sch o o l
(gro uped
aro und t h e review
Wendingen,
ever t h e
enemy
o f De
St ijl),
wh o o bt ained no t
o nly
t h e co mmis s io n
f o r t h e Dut ch
pavilio n (given
t o
J.
F.
St aal)
but als o t h e
mo no po ly
t o f abricat e
every t h ing
it co nt ained.123 Van
Do es burg
was
jus t ly
f urio us and made h is
indignat io n
kno wn
lo udly .
He edit ed an
Appel
de
pro t es t at io n
co nt re le
ref us
de la
part icipat io n
du
gro upe
De
St ijl (Cry
o f
pro t es t
agains t
t h e ref us al o f
part icipat io n
f o r t h e De
St ijl gro up),
wh ich h e h ad dis t ribut ed at t h e
o pening
o f t h e exh ibit io n.
T h e t ext was
s igned
no t
o nly by
Gabriel
Gu6vr6kian,
Au-
gus t e Perret ,
Ro bert Mallet -St evens
-
in
brief , every o ne
wh o co unt ed in
co nt empo rary
French arch it ect ure
(we
no t e
o nly
t h e abs ence o f Le
Co rbus ier, h ardly genero us
in
h is
regard
f o r
y o ung co lleagues
and
mo rbidly jealo us )
-
but als o
by
T ris t an
T zara,
Ado lf
Lo o s ,
Walt er
Gro pius ,
Filippo
T o mmas o
Marinet t i,
and
many
o t h ers . Fo ur mem-
122
B o is
bers and ex-members o f De St ijl
af f ixed t h eir
s ignat ure:
van
Ees t reren, Riet veld, Hus zar,
and
Jan
Wils
(t h e
las t t wo
des pit e
t h eir
f alling
o ut wit h van
Do es burg).
T h e def ect io n
o f Oud was
cruel,
but wo rs e and much les s
explicable,
was
t h at o f Mo ndrian. If no t t h e caus e o f t h e celebrat ed es -
t rangement
bet ween Mo ndrian and van
Do es burg,
t h is de-
f ect io n, o ccurring
bef o re Mo ndrian h ad t aken is s ue wit h
van
Do es burg's
us e o f t h e
o blique,
is it s f irs t manif es t at io n.
Fo r t h e
paint er
did no t co nt ent h ims elf wit h
igno ring
t h e
Appel:
h e
part icipat ed
in an
enquiry , o rganized by
t h e
jo urnal
Het
Vaderland, int ended
t o co llect f avo rable re-
views o f t h e Dut ch
pavilio n
and t o co nf o und van Do es -
burg by s h o wing
h is relat ive is o lat io n. Mo ndrian
declared,
"Wit h o ut
s peaking
o f
my
o wn vis io n o f
co nt empo rary art ,
I
h ave t h e
very h igh es t appreciat io n
f o r t h e Dut ch
pavilio n.
It is s t ill t o o rich o n t h e o ut s ide and bas ed t o o much o n an
o ld
principle
o f
co ns t ruct io n."'24
T h e
qualif icat io n
o f t h e
s eco nd s ent ence makes o ne t h ink
o f t h e wh o le
pas s age
as
bearing
a
t y po graph ic erro r,
but t h ere is
no t h ing
o f t h e
kind.
Mo ndrian was h ims elf t o cit e
lit erally
h is declarat io n
t o
Oud,
and s eemed
s urpris ed
t o
f ind
h ims elf
reprimanded
by
van
Do es burg: "Do es burg repro ach es
me no w f o r h av-
ing ranged my s elf
wit h t h e
Wendingen
mo b and
go ing
agains t my principles ."'25 And,
in
f act ,
it is h ard t o s ee
h o w
Mo ndrian,
wh o
unceas ingly
railed
agains t
t h e us e o f
brick and curves and iro nized
agains t
t h e vo lumet ric na-
t ure o f
arch it ect ure,
co uld def end t h at "black
f arm, abs urd,
dark as a
ch urch ,
deco rat ed wit h it s crino line o f bricks "
(van Do es burg).
Do ubt les s t h is "o ut burs t "
by
Mo ndrian co uld be
explained
by
h is
increas ing
bad h umo r wit h van
Do es burg.
He h ad
t aken
po o rly
a
qualif y ing
no t e t h at van
Do es burg
h ad
ap-
pended
t o t h e las t t ext t h at h e
publis h ed
in De
St ijl:
Mo n-
drian, alluding
t o t h e
way
in wh ich h e
paint ed
f lo wers t o
s urvive,
h ad declared t h at "t h e art is t h as f ew ch ances t o
earn
mo ney
o ut s ide h is o wn
f ield;
but if t h e
buy ers
de-
mand nat uralis t ic
art ,
t h en t h e art is t can
pro duce
t h is wit h
h is
s kills ,
dis t inct f ro m h is 'o wn wo rk."'
Very do gmat ically
van
Do es burg
h ad
no t ed,
"T h e edit o rs decline all
res po ns i-
bilit y
f o r t h is
s t at ement .'"126
Nevert h eles s ,
we canno t ab-
s o lve Mo ndrian f ro m a cert ain
inco ns t ancy :
t h is
wo uld,
indeed,
allo w us no t t o t ake h is arch it ect ural t h eo ries t o o
s erio us ly , o r,
at
leas t ,
no t t o f o llo w t h em
lit erally .
A s eco nd
act ,
mo re h o no rable f o r t h e
paint er.
T h e
arch it ect s ,
as we h ave
s aid,
were
appreciat ive
o f Mo n-
drian's
art ,
were
amo ng
h is f irs t and mo s t f ait h f ul co llec-
t o rs ,
and did no t h o ld h im
rigo ro us ly
acco unt able f o r t h e
int rans igence
o f h is arch it ect ural
t h eo ry ,
f o r it s evident in-
co mpreh ens io n
wit h
regard
t o t h e
s pat ial
and vo lumet ric
nat ure o f t h eir art . As f o r
Mo ndrian,
h e was
pleas ed
and
f lat t ered
by
t h eir
s uppo rt ,
even
t h o ugh
h e t reat ed t h em
s o met imes ,
as we h ave
s een,
as
"valet s
o f t h e
public."
On
11
June 1935, during
a dinner t h at ended a
wo rking
meet -
ing
o f
delegat es
t o t h e f o urt h
CIAM,
t h e diners
s po ke
o f
Mo ndrian and decided t o s end h im
co llect ively
t h eir
"co rdial
greet ings ."
Under t h e let t erh ead o f CIAM and a
f riendly s ent ence,
were added at leas t
t h irt y s ignat ures ,
amo ng
t h em t h o s e o f Walt er
Gro pius , Siegf ried Giedio n,
Jo s e
Luis
Sert ,
Wells
Co at es ,
Karl and Werner
Mo s er,
and
a
large
number o f Dut ch
arch it ect s , including
Mart
St am,
van
Ees t eren,
and Ch arles Kars t en. Ch arles Kars t en's wif e
was
ch arged
t o s end t h e
let t er;
t h e
paper
was
ligh t ly s o iled,
as s h e no t ed
in apo lo gy
o n t h e back.
Des pit e
h is o bs es s io n
wit h
h y giene,
t h is was o ne o f t h e rare
let t ers ,
if no t t h e
o nly o ne,
t h at Mo ndrian
kept .127
No t es
T h is t ext f irs t
appeared
in French in
La Revue de l'art
(Wint er 1981);
t h e no t es h ave been revis ed f o r
publicat io n h ere. All quo t at io ns
f ro m Mo ndrian are f ro m t h e recent
Englis h
t rans lat io n o f h is
co mplet e
writ ings ,
T h e New Art
-
T h e New
Lif e:
T h e Co llect ed
Writ ings o f
Piet
Mo ndrian,
ed. and t rans .
Harry
Ho lzman and Mart in S.
James
(B o s t o n: G.
K.
Hall, 1986);
t h e var-
iant
s pellings
o f t h is t rans lat io n
h ave been ret ained.
I wis h t o t h ank t h e
many peo ple
wh o h ave
h elped
me
during
t h is
wo rk, no t ably
t h o s e wh o h ave f acil-
it at ed acces s t o cert ain do cument s :
amo ng
t h es e Herbert Henkels
(Ge-
meent emus eum,
T h e
Hague)
wh o
h as
co urt eo us ly
f urnis h ed
many
il-
lus t rat io ns , Jo o p Jo o s t en (St edelijk
Mus eum, Ams t erdam),
and
Nancy
T ro y (No rt h wes t ern Univers it y ,
Ch icago ). I wis h , abo ve all, t o
t h ank Anne van der Jagt (Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia,
Ins t it ut Neerlandais ,
Paris )
f o r
h aving
allo wed me t o read
Mo ndrian's
co rres po ndence
wit h
Oud,
f o r
h aving placed
at
my
dis -
po s it io n
t h e t rans lat io n t h at s h e h as
co mplet ed
o f cert ain o f t h e let t ers ,
and f o r
h aving
co rrect ed mine,
t h e
mo s t
needy
cas e o f all.
1. Ch armio n vo n Wiegand,
"Mo n-
drian,
a Memo ir o f h is New Yo rk
Perio d,"
Art s Yearbo o k 4
(1961):
58.
2.
T ~riade,
"Do cument at io ns
s ur la
peint ure
-
III Co ns equences du
Cubis me,"
Cah iers d'art s
5,
no . 1
(1930):
22.
3. Rene
Jean,
"Les
Expo s it io ns ,"
Co mo edia,
21
May
1931.
123
as s emblage 4
4.
Rey ner B anh am, "Mo ndrian and
t h e
Ph ilo s o ph y
o f Mo dern
Des ign,"
Arch it ect ural Review
(Oct o ber
1957):
227-29. Here B anh am
s t ig-
mat izes t h is
s uperf icial appreciat io n
o f Mo ndrian and co ncludes : "T h ere
are
very go o d
reas o ns
wh y
f lo o rs are
h o rizo nt al and walls
co mmo nly
ver-
t ical, and t h es e
underly
t h e
equally
go o d
reas o ns
wh y
mo s t s t ruct ural
s y s t ems
and
pref abricat io n
met h o ds
als o h ave a
rect angular f o rmat , but
t o
pro mo t e
t h es e
pract ical
co ns ider-
at io ns t o t h e level o f abs o lut es is t o
abdicat e t h e f reedo ms t h at are t h e
prerequis it es
o f
pro gres s ."
Even if
B anh am co mes a lit t le t o o
quickly
t o t h e co nclus io n t h at t h e arch it ec-
t ural
t h eo ry o f De
St ijl
-
t h at o f
van Do es burg
-
is in f act f unc-
t io nalis t and inf luenced
by
German
arch it ect ure and t h e B auh aus (ergo ,
t h at it is dif f erent f ro m t h at o f
Mo ndrian),
o ne can
o nly appro ve
o f h is
iro ny
in t h e f ace o f a
bo dy
o f
do minat ing prejudices .
On van
Do es burg's
ant if unct io nalis m
(and
ant ianat o mis m) f ro m 1922 o n, and
o n t h e way t h is ant if unct io nalis m is
s et f o rt h in t h e arch it ect ural
pro ject s
h e
des igned
wit h Co rnelis van Ees -
t eren f o r t h e Paris De
St ijl
s h o w o f
1923
(Galerie
de "L'Ef f o rt Mo d-
erne," direct ed
by
L6o nce
Ro s en-
berg),
s ee Yve-Alain B o is and
Nancy T ro y ,
"De
St ijl
et I'arch it ec-
t ure A
Paris ," and B runo
Reich lin,
"Le Co rbus ier vs . De
St ijl,"
in De
St ijll
et l'arch it ect ure en
France, ed.
Yve-Alain B o is and B runo Reich lin
(B rus s els : Mardaga, 1985), pp.
27-
90 and 91-108.
5. Van
Do es burg
is cleares t o n t h is
po int
els ewh ere in h is t ext s wh ere
h e t akes h is dis t ance f ro m
neo plas t i-
cis m: "Wh at ever co ns t ruct io n is
us ed, mat t er remains
s ubject
t o t h e
f o rce o f
gravit y .
It makes no es s en-
t ial dif f erence wh et h er arch it ect ure
us es
lo ad-and-carry co ns t ruct io n,
t h at bas ed o n t ens io n o r no co n-
s t ruct io n at all" ("Sch ilderkuns t en
plas t iek
-
o ver
co nt ra-co mpo s it ie
en
co nt ra-plas t iek,"
De
St ijl 7, no s .
75-76
[1927]: 35; t rans . in Jo o s t
B aljeu, T h eo van
Do es burg [Lo n-
do n: St udio Vis t a, 1974], p. 157).
Even if van
Do es burg
co uld no t
f o res ee t h e
parabo lic
s h ells o f t h e
f if t ies , t h e res ult o f an
ent irely
new
applicat io n o f reinf o rced co ncret e
(precis ely
in
t ens io n),
h is remark
s t ill remains
pert inent t o day : arch i-
t ect ure is co ndemned t o be erect ed
(vert ically )
o n a
gro und (h o rizo nt al);
t h e
"H/V"
is t h e es s ent ial co ndit io n
o f arch it ect ure.
6. T h e f irs t o ccurrence o f t h is cele-
brat ed co mparis o n can be f o und in
Alf red B arr, Cubis m and Abs t ract
Art (New Yo rk: Mus eum o f Mo d-
ern Art , 1936), pp. 156-57. Mies
h ims elf
ent irely reject ed t h at kind o f
co mparis o n in an int erview wit h
Pet er B lake, wh ich is wo rt h
quo t ing:
B lake: A lo t o f art crit ics claim t h at
y o ur wo rk is
very
much inf luenced
by De St ijl, by van Do es burg.
Mies : No , t h at is abs o lut e no n-
s ens e, y o u kno w.
B lake:
Wh y
do n't
y o u explain wh y ?
Mies : Van
Do es burg
s aw t h es e
drawings
o f t h e o f f ice
building. I
explained it t o h im, and I s aid,
'T h is is s kin-and-bo nes arch it ec-
t ure.' Af t er t h at h e called me an
anat o mical arch it ect . I liked van
Do es burg,
but no t as
t h o ugh h e
knew
very
much abo ut arch it ect ure.
He
des igned
h o us es o r
buildings t o -
get h er
wit h van
Ees t eren, t h e
cit y
planner.
B ut
mo s t ly
h e was int er-
es t ed in h is
part icular
kind o f art .
Like Mo ndrian. Once in Diis s eldo rf
h e
pro po s ed
t h e dict um t h at
every -
t h ing
s h o uld be
s quare!
B ut t h ere is
no inf luence. T h e s ame
peo ple
claim t h at I was inf luenced
by
Mo ndrian in t h e f irs t
building f o r
t h e I.T .T . campus ,
t h e Met als
B uildings . T h is o ne h as a wall t h at
t h ey s ay lo o ks like a Mo ndrian. B ut
I remember very well h o w it came
abo ut . Every t h ing was do nat ed f o r
t h is wh o le building. T h e s it e
-
we
h ad 64 f eet f ro m t h e railro ad t o t h e
s idewalk. So mebo dy gave t h em a
t ravelling crane
-
it was 40 f eet
wide, s o we needed 42 f ro m cent er
o f co lumn t o cent er o f co lumn.
T h e res t was labo rat o ries , y o u
kno w. Every t h ing was t h ere
-
we
needed s t eel bracing in t h e wall,
t h e brick wall. It was a ques t io n o f
t h e building co de. Yo u can o nly
make an eigh t -inch wall s o big,
o t h erwis e y o u h ave t o reinf o rce it .
So we did t h at . T h en wh en every -
t h ing was f inis h ed, t h e peo ple f ro m
t h e Met als B uilding, t h e engineers ,
t h ey came and s aid, 'We need h ere
a do o r.' So I put in a do o r. And t h e
res ult was t h e Mo ndrian!
Pet er B lake, "A Co nvers at io n wit h
Mies ," ed. Gerh ardt M. Kallmann,
in Fo ur Great Makers o f Mo dern
Arch it ect ure: Gro pius , Le Co rbus ier,
Mies van der Ro h e, Wrigh t , a ver-
bat im reco rd o f a s y mpo s ium h eld
f ro m March t o May 1961 at t h e
Sch o o l o f Arch it ect ure, Co lumbia
Univers it y , New Yo rk, pp. 101-2.
On t h e s t range relat io ns h ip bet ween
van Do es burg and Mies (wh o par-
t icipat ed in t h e arch it ect ural s h o w
o f De St ijl in Paris in 1923) and
t h eir ambiguo us co rres po ndence,
s ee B o is and T ro y , "De St ijl et l'ar-
ch it ect ure a
Paris ," pp. 47-48.
7. Riet veld mus t , nevert h eles s ,
h ave been int eres t ed in t h e pict o rial
wo rk o f Mo ndrian: o n 18 March
1922 h e t h anked Oud f o r h aving
bro ugh t t o h is at t ent io n t h e Mo n-
drian ret ro s pect ive at t h e St edelijk
Mus eum, Ams t erdam, adding, "I
h ad already h eard o f h im. B ut each
t ime t h at y o u s ee s o met h ing int er-
es t ing t o lo o k at , it alway s gives me
pleas ure t h at y o u let me kno w"
(co py o f let t er in t h e arch ives o f t h e
Gemeent emus eum, T h e Hague). It
is als o int eres t ing t o no t e t h at
t h ro ugh t h e int ervent io n o f Oud,
Riet veld t ried
-
uns ucces s f ully -
t o co nvince o ne o f h is acquain-
t ances in Ut rech t t o purch as e a
paint ing by Mo ndrian (s ee t h e co r-
res po ndence o f Mo ndrian wit h
Oud, Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia, Ins t it ut
N6erlandais , Paris , no t ably let t er A.
437 o f 4 December 1927). B y co n-
t ras t , Mo ndrian f o und t h e f urnit ure
o f Riet veld "s t ill a bit f o rced" wh en
h e s aw it repro duced in De St ijl
(let t er t o van Do es burg, 11 April
1920, Van Do es burg Arch ive,
Diens t Vers preide Rijks ko llekt ies ,
T h e Hague).
8. Gerrit Riet veld, "Mo ndrian en
h et nieuwe bo uwen," B o uwkundig
Weekblad, 73t h y ear, no . 11 (15
March 1955): 128. In f act , a geo -
met rical s implif icat io n o f t h e do -
mes t ic art o f lead-glazing, very
f as h io nable in Ho lland at t h e be-
ginning o f t h e cent ury , s h o rt ly f o l-
lo wed t h e birt h o f De St ijl. B ut
bey o nd s everal experiment s in t h is
do main by T h eo van Do es burg and
Vilmo s Hus zar, t h e es s ent ial ro le
was play ed by Jo h an T h o rn Prikker,
wh o s e co mpo s it io ns , s o met imes ab-
s t ract , o we no t h ing t o neo plas t icis m
(s ee Paul Wember, Jo h an T h o rn
Prikker [Kref eld: Sch erpe Verlag,
1966], pp. 200-16). One o f t h e
s po ns o rs o f t h e Caf 6 Aubet t e, Andre
Ho rn, h ad as ked van Do es burg and
T h o rn Prikker t o pro vide s t ained
glas s f o r h is apart ment (s ee Jean-
Lo uis Faure, "L'Aubet t e et s es
cr6a-
t eurs ," Plais ir de France 38, no .
394 [No vember 1971]: 26-27).
9. Riet veld, "Mo ndrian en h et
nieuwe bo uwen," p. 128.
10. T h e exh ibit io n t o o k place at
t h e Valent ine Gallery , January -
February 1942. Mo ndrian's t ext ,
"T o ward t h e T rue Vis io n o f Real-
it y " is reprint ed in T h e New Art -
T h e New Lif e: T h e Co llect ed Writ -
124
B o is
ings o f
Piet
Mo ndrian,
ed. and
t rans .
Harry
Ho lzman and Mart in
S.
James (B o s t o n:
G. K.
Hall,
1986),
s ee
p.
340 f o r t h e
pas s age
quo t ed
h ere. T h is bo o k will be re-
f erred t o h encef o rt h as T h e New
Art .
11.
Mo ndrian,
"T o ward t h e T rue
Vis io n o f
Realit y ,"
T h e New
Art ,
p.
340.
12.
Mo ndrian, T h e New
Art , p.
237. T h e t ext was no t
publis h ed
in
L'Int rans igeant ,
wh ere Mo ndrian
s ent
it ,
but it s erved as t h e bas is f o r
h is
res po ns e
t o t h e
inquiry
o n ab-
s t ract art
o rganized by
t h e Cah iers
d'art
("De
l'art
abs t rait ," Cah iers
d'art
6,
no . 1
[1931]: 41-43).
13.
Mo ndrian,
"T o ward t h e T rue
Vis io n o f
Realit y ,"
T h e New
Art , p.
340.
14. Piet
Mo ndrian, "De Realis eer-
ing
van h et Neo -Plas t icis me in
verre t o eko ms t en in de
h uidige
ar-
ch it ect uur"
[T h e
Realizat io n o f
Neo -Plas t icis m in t h e Dis t ant Fu-
t ure and in Arch it ect ure
T o day ], pt .
2,
De
St ijl 5,
no . 5
(1922): 66;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p. 170. Els
Ho ek is
righ t
in
ins is t ing
o n t h e di-
vergent
views o f Mo ndrian and van
Do es burg
o n t h is
mat t er,
wh ich led
t o t h eir f irs t
majo r dis agreement
aro und
1922-23;
s ee Els
Ho ek,
"Piet
Mo ndrian,"
in
De St ijl: T h e
Fo rmat ive Years , ed. Carel B lo t -
kamp (Cambridge:
MIT
Pres s ,
1986), pp.
70-72.
15.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 1,
De
St ijl 5,
no . 3
(March
1922): 46;
T h e New
Art , p.
169.
16. Let t er t o Alf red
Ro t h ,
26
June
1933;
cit ed in Alf red
Ro t h , B egeg-
nung
mit Pio nieren
(B as el
and
St ut t gart :
B irkh ius er
Verlag 1973),
p.
175.
17. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
16 De-
cember
1920,
A.
383,
Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia.
18. Piet
Mo ndrian,
Le
Neo -plas t i-
cis me:
Principe gdnerale
de
l'9quiva-
lence
plas t ique (Paris :
Edit io ns de
l'Ef f o rt Mo derne, 1920). p. 14;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p.
147.
Even
t h o ugh bearing
t h e dat e
1920,
t h is s mall bo o k was
o nly publis h ed
at t h e
beginning
o f 1921.
19.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 71;
T h e New
Art , p.
172.
20. Mo ndrian realized t h is "co m-
po s it io n"
at t h e
reques t
o f h is f riend
van As s endelf t .
T o day
it
belo ngs
t o
t h e
Gallery B ey eler
in B as el. See
Jo o p Jo o s t en,
"Do cument at ie o ver
Mo ndrian
(4)," Mus eumjo urnaal
18,
no . 4
(Sept ember 1973).
21. Mo ndrian ment io ned t h is wo rk
in h is
co rres po ndence
wit h Oud
(let t er
o f 26 December
1926,
A.
428
[2])
and wit h
Fel1ix
Del Marle.
T h e lat t er as ked h im t o
des ign
t h e
co ver o f Vo ulo ir 25
(1927),
a
s pe-
cial is s ue o n t h e
ambiance;
Mo n-
drian
cat ego rically
ref us ed
(let t er
o f
7
January 1927).
See
my
"Mo n-
drian en
France,
s a co llabo rat io n 'a
Vo ulo ir,
s a
co rres po ndence
avec
Del
Marle,"
B ullet in de la So cidt e
de I'His t o ire de
l'Art
Frangais
(1981):
281-94.
22. Let t er t o Alf red
Ro t h ,
26
June
1933; cit ed in
Ro t h , B egegnung
mit
Pio nieren,
173-74.
23.
Mo ndrian,
Le
Nio -plas t icis me,
p. 7;
T h e New
Art , p.
140.
24. Piet
Mo ndrian,
"De Nieuwe
B eelding
in de s ch ilderkuns t "
[T h e
New Plas t ic in
Paint ing],
int ro duc-
t io n,
De
St ijl 1,
no .
1 (Oct o ber
1917): 4;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p.
29. In Le
Neo -plas t icis me,
Mo n-
drian do es no t
quo t e
t h e f ull
pas -
s age,
wh ich
pro ceeds
as f o llo ws :
"Each art h as it s o wn
emph as is ,
it s
part icular expres s io n:
t h is
jus t if ies
t h e exis t ence o f t h e vario us art s .
We can no w def ine t h e
emph as is
o f
t h e art o f
paint ing
as t h e mo s t co n-
s is t ent
expres s io n o f pure
relat io n-
s h ips .
Fo r it is
paint ing's unique
privilege
t o
expres s relat io ns h ips
f reely
- in o t h er
wo rds ,
it s means
o f
expres s io n (t h ro ugh
co ns is t ent
and
t h o ro ugh t rans f o rmat io n)
allo w
ext reme
o ppo s it es
t o be
expres s ed
as
t h e
pure relat io ns h ips
o f
po s it io n,
wit h o ut
as s uming f o rm,
o r even t h e
appearance
o f f o rm
(as
in arch it ec-
t ure), t h ro ugh
enclo s ure." T h is las t
s ent ence is
part icularly s ignif icant ,
no t
o nly
beaus e it is t h e f irs t remark
Mo ndrian ever
publis h ed
o n arch i-
t ect ure,
but als o becaus e it
pro vides
a clue t o wh at wo uld be h is
lif elo ng
po s it io n:
arch it ect ure canno t
es cape
t h e realm o f f o rm
(t h ro ugh
enclo -
s ure),
h ence it is bo und t o "t h e
par-
t icular," i.e.,
it can never reach
"t h e abs o lut e."
25. B art van der
Leck,
"De Plaat s
van h et mo derne s ch ilderen in de
arch it ect uur,"
De
St ijl 1,
no .
1\
(Oct o ber 1917):
6-7.
26. B art van der
Leck,
"Over
s ch ilderen en
bo uwen,"
De
St ijl 1,
no . 4
(March 1918):
37-38.
27.
Ibid., 38.
28. T h eo van
Do es burg, "Aant eek-
eningen
o ver mo nument ale kuns t ,"
De
St ijl 2,
no . 1 (No vember 1918):
10;
t rans . in A. L. C.
Jaf f 6,
De
St ijl
(Lo ndo n:
T h ames and
Huds o n,
1970), p.
99.
29.
Nancy T ro y
h as well demo n-
s t rat ed h o w t h e t wo t h eo ret ical t ext s
o f van der Leck s t emmed f ro m h is
dif f icult ies wit h
B erlage
s ince t h eir
co llabo rat io n o ver dif f erent int erio rs
f o r Mrs .
Krller-Miiller,
t h e
paint er
h aving dif f icult y
in
accept ing
t h e
y o ke
in wh ich t h e arch it ect want ed
t o h o ld h im
(s ee Nancy T ro y ,
T h e
De
St ijl
Enviro nment
[Cambridge:
MIT
Pres s , 1985], pp. 10-16).
Van
der Leck was t o leave De
St ijl
af t er
t h e f irs t
y ear
o f t h e
gro up's
exis -
t ence, acco rding
t o h is wo rds ,
becaus e o f t h e
o ver-large s pace
al-
lo t t ed t o arch it ect ure in t h e
jo urnal
De St ijl.
30. T h eo van
Do es burg,
"De B e-
t eekenis van de kleur in binnen
en
buit enarch it ect uur," B o uwkundig
Weekblad 44,
no . 21
(26 May
1923): 232; t rans . in
B aljeu,
van
Do es burg, p.
137.
31. I cit e t h e French t rans lat io n
(and s ligh t t rans f o rmat io n)
o f t h is
pas s age
f ro m
"Aant eekeningen
o ver
mo nument ale kuns t " t h at van
Do es burg
h ims elf
gave
in "L'Art
co llect if et s o n
impo rt ance s o ciale,"
Vo ulo ir 25
(1927): n.p.
32. Piet
Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke
en
abs t ract e realit eit " [Nat ural Realit y ,
and Abs t ract Realit y ], publis h ed in
t welve ins t allment s in De
St ijl,
1919-1920
(t h is cit at io n,
De
St ijl
3,
no . 6
[April 1920]: 56;
t rans . in
T h e New Art , p. 111).
33. T h e t it le
may imperf ect ly
be
t rans lat ed as "T h e Det erminat e and
t h e Indet erminat e." Publis h ed in
De
St ijl 2,
no . 2
(December 1918):
14-19,
t h is t ext was
pres ent ed
as a
s upplement
t o h is
lo ng
s eries o f
t ext s ent it led "De Nieuwe
B eelding
in de s ch ilderkuns t " and
publis h ed
during
t h e wh o le f irs t
y ear
o f t h e
jo urnal.
It is
very likely
t h at van
Do es burg
h ad as ked Mo ndrian f o r a
t ext t h at wo uld clarif y and s umma-
rize t h e pro po s it io ns co nt ained in
h is s eries o f art icles : "Het bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde"
is in ef f ect
much clearer. Prio r t o t h e
lo ng
eno ugh f ragment
included in t h is
t ext , Mo ndrian h ad writ t en
no t h ing
o n
arch it ect ure,
unles s we co unt
t h e brief remark o n t h e
s pecif icit y
o f t h e art s in h is f irs t t ext f o r De
St ijl (s ee
abo ve n.
24)
and a
very
s t range ph ras e
in t h e t h ird is s ue o f
t h e
jo urnal (t rans .
in T h e New Art ,
p. 37),
o n t h e f act t h at t o co nt ro l a
paint ing's relat io ns h ip
t o arch it ec-
t ure,
it s "co lo rs mus t be
paint ed
in
t h e
precis e place
wh ere t h e wo rk is
125
as s emblage 4
t o be s een." In a let t er t o van Do es -
burg pro bably
o f 9
July
1918
(t h e
ins cript io n
o f t h e dat e s eems
by
van
Do es burg's h and),
Mo ndrian ex-
pres s ed
h is dis t rus t f o r
arch it ect s ,
crit icizing
van
Do es burg
f o r h is de-
s ire t o
put
t h em "at t h e s ame level
as us
(wit h
o ur
N.P.),"
and
urging
h im t o
keep
t h e direct io n o f De
St ijll
f ro m t h eir
greedy h ands ,
as a
co nf lict was bo und t o aris e. He
t h en
co ncluded, o nly
a f ew mo nt h s
bef o re
writ ing
"Het
bepaalde
en h et
o nbepaalde":
"I canno t writ e abo ut
arch it ect ure becaus e I am no t an
arch it ect ; I mean,
I canno t writ e
like I writ e o n
paint ing.
B ut lat er I
will
event ually
t ell
my
ideas abo ut
it ." Wh ile in h is
"t rialo gue"
def in-
ing
arch it ect ure as t as t baar-reel
[t angibly real] (De St ijl 3, no . 2
[December 1919]), o n ano t h er o c-
cas io n Mo ndrian wro t e t o van
Do es burg:
"It is s o dif f icult t o f ind a
wo rd able t o dif f erent iat e t h e N.P.
in arch it ect ure and t h e N.P. in
paint ing" (let t er
o f 4 December
1919).
B o t h let t ers are in t h e Van
Do es burg
Arch ive. We will s ee t h at
t h ro ugh
h is
po lemics
wit h
Oud,
Mo ndrian will beco me les s and les s
s crupulo us
abo ut h is
"inco mpet -
ence" in arch it ect ure.
34. See,
f o r
example, Piet Mo n-
drian, "L'Expres s io n no uvelle en
peint ure,"
Cah iers d'art
1, no . 7
(1926): 182;
t rans . in T h e New
Art ,
p.
203: "T h e new
plas t ic
and t h ere-
f o re t h e new aes t h et ic
o riginat ed
in
paint ing, perh aps
becaus e
paint ing
co uld co ncent rat e o n t h e
plane,
and becaus e it is f reer t h an
arch it ect ure."
35. Mo ndrian's uneas ines s h ere is
ech o ed
by
Wllf lin in h is Kuns t -
ges ch ich t lich e Grundbegrif f e,
f irs t
publis h ed
in
1915,
wh en h e is
abo ut t o
put
int o
play ,
in arch it ec-
t ure,
h is s eco nd f undament al
o ppo -
s it io n,
t h at o f
plane
and reces s io n:
"T h e t rans f erence t o arch it ect ure o f
t h e
co ncept s plane and reces s io n
s eems t o meet wit h s o me dif f icul-
t ies . Arch it ect ure is
alway s depen-
dent o n reces s io n, and
planimet ric
arch it ect ure s o unds
dangero us ly like
no ns ens e. On t h e o t h er h and, even
if we admit t h at a
building
as a
bo dy
is
s ubject
t o t h e s ame co ndi-
t io ns as a plas t ic f igure, we s h o uld
h ave t o
s ay
t h at a t ect o nic
s t ruct ure,
wh ich
us ually pro vides
a f rame and
backgro und
f o r
s culpt ure it s elf ,
co uld never, even t o
pro vide a
co mparis o n,
s o f ar
depart f ro m
f ro nt alit y
as
baro que s culpt ure do es "
(Heinrich Wt lf f lin, Principles o f Art
His t o ry ,
t r. M. D.
Ho t t inger [New
Yo rk: Do ver, 1950], p. 115). Wilf -
f lin t h en
pro ceeds
t o res cue h is
o p-
po s it io n
f ro m
abs urdit y wh en
applied
t o arch it ect ure.
Alt h o ugh
Mo ndrian
cert ainly
never read
W6lf f lin's bo o k, it is
int eres t ing
t o
no t e h ere t h at bo t h men were f ar
f ro m
imagining
t h at a
reject io n o f
f ro nt alit y
was
go ing
t o be o ne o f
mo dern arch it ect ure's
pro grammat ic
claims . Furt h er, t h is co incidence o f
t h o ugh t emph as izes
t h at Mo ndrian's
view o n arch it ect ure was f ar mo re
dependent
o n a t radit io nal
appro ach
t h an h e was aware o f .
36. Piet
Mo ndrian, "Kuns t zo nder
o nderwerp," cat alo gue
o f t h e exh i-
bit io n Abs t ract e Kuns t (Ams t erdam:
St edelijk Mus eum, 1938), p. 7;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p.
304. At
t h e s ame t ime as h is
po lemics
wit h
Oud - wh ich wo uld h ave a
s t ro ng
ro le t o
play
in t h e elabo rat io n o f h is
arch it ect ural
t h eo ry
-
Mo ndrian
was
quarrelling
wit h a
B elgian
art -
is t , Jo zef Peet ers , co edit o r, wit h
Mich el
Seuph o r,
o f t h e Anvers -
bas ed
jo urnal
Het
Overzich t , abo ut
t h e no t io n o f
applied
art .
Ref erring
t o Peet ers 's vis it t o h is
s t udio , Mo n-
drian wro t e t o van
Do es burg:
"As
h e
applies
t h e
N.P.,
it do es no t
lo o k like
any t h ing.
Or
rat h er, no t
even like t h e N.P. He imit at es
every t h ing, but it remains f lat . ...
It is go o d t h at I t alked t o h im as
no w I can s peak agains t t h is kind o f
idea in my art icle o n arch it ect ure. I
mean agains t art applique [in
French in t h e t ext ]. Oud als o wro t e
me again o n arch it ect ure. I canno t
make any t h ing clear t o h im, t h at is
wh y I'm writ ing t h e art icle. B ut t h is
art icle will remain a lo ng t ime in
t h e making" (3 Oct o ber 1921). Af t er
a s eco nd vis it f ro m Peet ers , Mo n-
drian wo uld writ e t o van
Do es burg
t h at t h e B elgian art is t "is a danger-
o us man" and t h at h e regret s "no t
t o h ave t h ro wn h im do wn t h e
s t airs ." T h is s eco nd vis it pro mpt ed
Mo ndrian t o wo rk
again at h is art i-
cle agains t deco rat io n in arch it ec-
t ure: "It is an impo rt ant po int and I
want t o t reat it
t o get h er wit h arch i-
t ect ure" 2 February 1922). Mo ndri-
an's art icle, "De
Realis eering," is
analy zed belo w as direct ly relat ed t o
h is co rres po ndence wit h Oud, but
h is anger at Peet ers mus t als o h ave
af f ect ed it s redact io n. Mo ndrian
h ims elf wro t e t o van
Do es burg,
"T h e f irs t part gave me a lo t o f
t ro uble; t h e s eco nd part is mo re an
ans wer t o Oud's o bject io ns and
agains t Peet ers " (25 May 1922). All
t h ree let t ers ment io ned h ere are in
t h e Van
Do es burg Arch ive.
37. Mo ndrian, "De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 71; T h e New Art , p. 172.
T h is is t h e f inal s ent ence o f t h e
t ext .
38. Ibid., p. 70; T h e New Art ,
p. 172.
39. Piet Mo ndrian, "L'Arch it ect ure
f ut ure
neo -plas t icienne," L'Arch it ec-
t ure vivant e, s pecial number o n De
St ijl (Aut umn-Wint er 1925): 11;
t rans . in T h e New Art , p. 196.
40. Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke
en ab-
s t ract e realit eit ," De St ijl 3, no . 3
(January 1920): 27; t rans . in T h e
New Art , p. 103.
41. Ibid., De
St ijl 3, no . 2 (De-
cember 1919): 18; T h e New Art ,
p. 102.
42. Ibid. In a let t er t o van Do es -
burg dat ed 8 January 1919, Mo n-
drian ref ers t o a t ext by Hus zar o n
Van 't Ho f f , ent it led, like mo s t o f
h is t ext s , "Aes t h et is ch e B es ch o uw-
ing" [Aes t h et ic co ns iderat io ns ],
wh ere h e clearly dif f erenciat es t h e
t rue wo rk o f art f ro m t h e pro duc-
t io n o f t h e engineers (De St ijl 2,
no . 3 [January 1919]: es pecially 29).
T h e t ext , writ es Mo ndrian, "is no t
very clear every wh ere, and I dis -
agree wit h h im abo ve all wh en h e
s peaks abo ut t h e engineer and s ay s
t h at a t rain-engine is no t a wo rk o f
art . Well, it 's a dif f icult po int . ...
B ut I s ee no majo r o bs t acle t o t h e
publicat io n o f h is piece. His h es it a-
t io ns co me f ro m t h e f act , it s eems
t o me, t h at h e do es no t like van 't
Ho f f 's arch it ect ure, and I can un-
ders t and t h at , f ro m wh at I kno w o f
t h is kind o f arch it ect ure" (Van
Do es burg Arch ive).
43. T h eo van Do es burg, "De T aak
der nieuwe arch it ect uur," B o uw-
kundig Weekblad 41, no s . 50 and
51 (11 and 18 December 1919):
278-85, and 42, no . 1 (8 January
1920): 8-10. See als o in vo l. 42 o f
t h e s ame jo urnal, "De B et eekenis
der mech anis ch e es t h et iek vo o r de
arch it ect uur en de andere vakken,"
no . 25 (18 June): 164-66; no . 28 (9
July ): 179-83; and no . 33 (13 Au-
gus t 1920): 219-21.
44. Let t er t o J. J. P. Oud, 1 Au-
gus t 1922, A. 404, Fo ndat io n Cus -
t o dia.
45. Oud's lect ure appeared f irs t in
Dut ch in B o uwkundig Weekblad
42, no . 24 (11 June 1921): 147-66.
In France it was publis h ed f irs t in
La Cit e 4, no . 5 (B rus s els , 1923),
and reprint ed in t h e B ullet in de
"L'Ef f o rt Mo derne" 4, 5, and 6
(April, May , and June 1924).
46. See J. J. P. Oud, "Over Cub-
126
B o is
is me, Fut uris me, mo derne bo uw-
kuns t , enz.," B o uwkundig
Weekblad
37,
no . 20
(16 Sept ember 1916):
156-57.
47.
Oud,
"L'Arch it ect ure de de-
main," B ullet in de
"L'Ef f o rt
Mo d-
erne,"
4
(April 1924):
4.
48. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
17
Augus t 1921,
A.
390,
Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia. T h e bro ch ure t o wh ich
Mo ndrian ref erred is Le Ndo -
plas t icis me,
in wh ich h e t o uch es o n
t h e arch it ect ural
ques t io n o nly
in a
very general way .
It is
t rue,
h o w-
ever, t h at in De St ijl, "Nat uurlijke
en abs t ract e realit eit " h ad o pened
t h e t h eme o f t h e arch it ect ural int e-
rio r in mo re co ncret e
t erms ,
as we
will s ee. T o illus t rat e t h e publica-
t io n o f h is co nf erence in B o uwkun-
dig Weekblad, Oud
repro duced
a
canvas
by Mo ndrian,
wit h t h e
cap-
t io n, "Example
o f a
paint ing
wh ere
t h e
co nt ingency
o f t h e nat ural is
o verco me,
and wh ich at t ains t h e
plas t ic [beelding] by
t h e balanced
relat io ns h ips
o f
po s it io n
and mea-
s urement o f co lo r."
49. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
18
Sep-
t ember 1921,
A.
393,
Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia.
50. Let t er t o
J. J.
P. Oud, undat ed,
A.
402,
Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia.
(T h is
let t er mus t h ave been writ t en a
very
s h o rt wh ile bef o re t h e
publicat io n
o f t h e s eco nd
part
o f "De Realis eer-
ing"
and af t er it s
co mpo s it io n;
t h us
very pro bably
in
May 1922.)
T h e
expres s io n
"Een
vrij
benaderend
beeld,"
wh ich I t rans lat ed as "a
clo s e
eno ugh ref lect io n,"
co uld als o
be t rans lat ed as "an
appro ximat e
eno ugh image." Neo plas t icis m
is f o r
Mo ndrian a
general principle
co ver-
ing
all h uman act ivit ies : h is o wn
paint ing
is "o n t h e
way ,"
but h e
do es no t
pret end
t o h ave arrived at
t h e "abs o lut e" manif es t at io n o f neo -
plas t ic principles
in
paint ing.
51. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
30 Au-
gus t 1921,
A.
391,
Fo ndat io n Cus -
t o dia. A let t er t o van
Do es burg,
dat ed 28 December
1921, gives
an-
o t h er acco unt o f t h is
epis o de.
Mo n-
drian f irs t ment io ns Oud's
lect ure,
"wh ich h e s ent me t h is s ummer":
"At f irs t I did no t
ans wer h im,
and
t h en wh en h e wro t e me lat er in t h e
f all I wro t e h im
f rankly
t h at I
unders t and t h at
may be
h e do es
no t h ims elf
accept
t h e N.P.
wh o leh eart edly
as 't h e
t h ing' (in
every t h ing) [als
'h et '
(in alles )],
but
t h at h e co uld h ave ment io ned us as
an
example (my bro ch ure,
f o r ex-
ample, wh ere I s ay quit e
a bit abo ut
arch it ect ure). We t h en h ad an ex-
ch ange
o f
co rres po ndence,
and I
s aw t h at h e is
s incerely
co nvinced
o f t h e
h igh impo rt ance
o f t h e N.P.
but canno t apply it in pract ice.
It is o f co urs e no t a
s urpris e, co m-
ing
f ro m t h e ch ief arch it ect o f Ro t -
t erdam! And s o I wro t e h im t h at it
is clear t o me t h at t o remain
pure,
arch it ect ure mus t be divided in t wo
(art
-
co mplet ely
- and
no n-art ).
T h at t h e no n-art co uld in no
way
repres ent
t h e N.P. He did no t un-
ders t and t h at
eit h er,
I as s ure
y o u,
wh ich is wh y I began my art icle. I
t o ld h im it was bet t er t h at I wo rk at
it and s end it t o h im"
(Van
Do es -
burg Arch ive).
52. Kazimir
Malevich , manus cript
cit ed
by Eugen
Ko vt un in "Die Ent -
s t eh ung
des
Supremat is mus ,"
Vo n
der Flich e zum Raum,
exh ibit io n
cat alo gue (Co lo gne: Gallery Gmur-
zy ns ka, 1974), p.
46. T h e
o ppo s i-
t io n bet ween arch it ect ure-as -art and
arch it ect ure-as -co ns t ruct io n can be
t raced back t o t h e
o rigins
o f mo dern
arch it ect ure,
and is co ns t it uent o f
it . One can f ind
it ,
f o r
example,
in
B o ullke's Es s ai s ur
l'art ,
writ t en be-
f o re 1793 and
publis h ed po s t h u-
mo us ly
in 1953. It s f irs t
paragraph ,
t y pically
mo dernis t in it s
ques t
f o r
an
es s ence,
reads : "Wh at is arch i-
t ect ure? Sh o uld I def ine it like Vi-
t ruvius as t h e art o f
building? No ,
t h ere is in t h is def init io n a crude
erro r. Vit ruvius mis t akes t h e ef f ect
f o r t h e caus e"
(Et ienne-Lo uis
B o ul-
lCe,
Es s ai s ur
l'art ,
ed.
Jean
Marie
Pero us e de Mo nt clo s
[Paris :
Her-
mann, 1968], p. 49).
53. T h is is
acco rding
t o Mo ndrian's
cit at io n o f Oud's
res po ns e
in h is
o wn let t er o f 18
Sept ember 1921,
A. 393.
54. Ibid.
55. "B ij Piet Mo ndrian," Nieuwe
Ro t t erdams ch e Co urant ,
23 March
1922.
56. Let t er o f 4
April 1922,
A.
400,
Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia. As is well
kno wn, Oud never s igned any o f
t h e co llect ive manif es t o es o f De
St ijl, f earing
t h at h is
po s it io n
as
ch ief arch it ect o f Ro t t erdam
(f ro m
January
1918
o n) migh t
s uf f er f ro m
any public
co mmit ment o n h is
part
t o t h e
po s it io n
o f t h e
avant -garde.
In h is o wn
unco mpro mis ing way ,
Mo ndrian co uld no t but
des pis e
s uch a lack o f
public
co mmit ment
as s h eer co wardice. In a let t er t o
van Do es burg t h at parallels t h e let -
t er
quo t ed abo ve,
h e s t at es t h at h e
co uld no t h ave ment io ned t h e ar-
ch it ect in t h e int erview as Oud
never
publicly
advo cat ed h is
s uppo rt
f o r De
St ijl
and as h e did no t kno w
o n wh ich s ide Oud want ed t o be
s een
(4 April 1922).
On o ne o cca-
s io n, h o wever,
Mo ndrian t ried t o
make excus es f o r Oud's lack o f
co mmit ment : "Abo ut
Oud, y o u
mus t t ake int o co ns iderat io n t h at
h is
po s it io n [as
Ro t t erdam's ch ief
arch it ect ]
co ns t rains h im,
t h at t h e
t rut h
gradually
makes it s
way
t h ro ugh
h is mind
and,
abo ve all,
t h at , except us , h e is t h e
o nly
o ne
wh o s ees
purely " (let t er
o f 6 Oct o -
ber
1920).
B o t h let t ers are in t h e
Van
Do es burg
Arch ive.
57. Oud's celebrat ed
co nf es s io n,
"Ja
und
Nein,"
wo uld
pro vo ke
t h e
anger
o f van
Do es burg,
but Mo n-
drian
very pro bably
h ad no kno wl-
edge
o f it .
"Ja
und Nein" was
publis h ed
in Paul Wes t h eim and
Carl
Eins t ein, Euro pa-Almanach
(Po s t dam: Kiepenh euer Verlag,
1925).
See T h eo van
Do es burg,
"Het f ias co van Ho lland
o p
de ex-
po s it e
t e
Parijs
in
1925,"
De
St ijl 6,
no s . 10-11
(1925).
58. Undat ed let t er t o
Oud,
A. 402.
59. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
13
July
1922,
A.
403,
Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia.
60. Ibid.
61. T h eo van
Do es burg,
"Van de
es t h et iek naar h et
mat eriaal,"
B o uwkundig Weekblad 43, no . 38
(23 Sept ember 1922): 372-75 (dat ed
July 1922, Weimar).
T h is t ext was
t h en
publis h ed
in German in
De
St ijl 6,
no . 1 (March 1923):
10-14.
62. Let t er t o
Oud, 1 Augus t 1922,
A. 404.
63. T h is is t h e
o nly
let t er f ro m
Oud t o Mo ndrian f o r wh ich t h ere
remains a draf t
(undat ed
but dat able
1922,
A.
372,
Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia).
64. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
undat ed
but dat able
1922,
A.
406,
Fo nda-
t io n Cus t o dia.
65. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
5
May
1922,
A.
401,
Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia.
66.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 1, p. 44;
T h e New
Art , p.
168.
67.
Ibid., pt . 1, p. 47;
T h e New
Art , p.
169.
68.
Ibid., pt . 2, p. 66;
T h e New
Art , p.
170.
69. A
repro ach
t h at Mo ndrian h ad
made t o Oud in t h e undat ed let t er
cit ed abo ve,
n. 50.
70.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 67;
T h e New Art , p.
170.
It is
int eres t ing
t h at Mallet -St evens
exh ibit ed,
as
early
as
1922,
f ull-
127
as s emblage 4
s cale mo dels at t h e Salo n d'Au-
t o mne,
wh ich Mo ndrian h ad
per-
h aps
s een. Fo r h is
part ,
Mies van
der Ro h e h ad built a f ull-s cale
mo del in wo o d and
paper
o f h is
pro ject
o f 1912 f o r a h o us e f o r Ma-
dame
Kr6ller-Mt iller
s o t h at s h e
co uld bet t er
judge
t h e ef f ect . Fi-
nally ,
it is wo rt h
no t ing
t h at Mo n-
drian's
pract ical
ideas o n t h e
mat erials t o be us ed f o r mo dels
wo uld be
ado pt ed by
van
Do es burg
and van Ees t eren in t h eir 1923
pro ject s
f o r t h e
Ro s enberg
exh ibi-
t io n at t h e Gallerie de "L'Ef f o rt
Mo derne." On
t h is , s ee B o is and
T ro y ,
"De
St ijl
et l'arch it ect ure
'i
Paris ," p.
31.
71.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 70;
T h e New
Art , p.
172.
72. Ibid.
73. Let t er t o
Oud,
13
July 1922,
A. 403. Wh en h e s ent t h e manu-
s cript
o f "De
Realis eering"
t o van
Do es burg,
Mo ndrian wro t e,
"Here
is t h e t ext . Oud wo uld
s ay
t h at t h e
beginning
is no t
direct ly pract ical.
And t h e end will no t
s at is f y
h im ei-
t h er. Yet I t h ink t h at
every t h ing
is
s o lved. T h is
po int
abo ut co ns t ruc-
t ive
purit y
is abo ve all an
o bject io n
co ming
f ro m Oud
(in
h is co rre-
s po ndence
wit h
me).
I t h ink it is
s o lved. He makes t h is
o bject io n
be-
caus e h e do es no t h ave in h ims elf
t h e N.P. idea,
it s eems t o me. B e-
caus e 'co ns t ruct ive
purit y '
is an o ld
co ncept .
Or am I
wro ng?
I kno w
almo s t wit h
cert aint y
t h at
y o u agree
wit h me o n t h at mat t er.
Quickly
s end me a no t e t o t ell me if t h at is
s o . It s eems t o me I s aid
every t h ing.
It co s t me a lo t mo re ef f o rt t h an it
s eems :
y o u
mus t no t
s ay
t h at f o r
weeks I did
no t h ing
els e but t h at ."
(n.d.,
Van
Do es burg Arch ive).
At
t h is
po int
van
Do es burg
h ad
pro b-
ably
no t
y et
elabo rat ed h is ant i-
anat o mical
po s it io n,
wh ich
ap-
peared
f o r t h e f irs t t ime in "Van h et
es t h et iek naar h et mat erial";
and
Mo ndrian
cert ainly play ed
a ro le in
t h e evo lut io n o f h is ideas o n arch i-
t ect ure. Indeed t h e t ext s t h at van
Do es burg publis h ed
in 1921
prio r
t o t h is dis cus s io n wit h t h e
paint er
are, f irs t ,
a
lo ng
at t ack o n
B erlage,
wh ich us ed t h e f unct io nalis t
argu-
ment o f Le Co rbus ier
(quo t ed
at
lengt h )
as a
weapo n
t o
s t igmat ize
t h e "individualis m" and
"s y mbo l-
is m" o f t h e o ld arch it ect
("De
T aak
van der nieuwe
arch it ect uur") and,
s eco nd,
an
apprais al
o f Le Co rbu-
s ier's "mech anical"
po s it io n,
wh ich
was us ed t o undermine t h e ro man-
t ic and Art s -and-Craf t revival s et
f o rt h
by
t h e B auh aus
("De
B et eek-
enis der mech anis ch e vo o r de ar-
ch it ect uur en de andere
vakken").
In bo t h
cas es ,
van
Do es burg
was
s t ill f ar f ro m
at t acking
f unct io nalis m
o r "anat o mis m": Mo ndrian's t h es is
(t h at by privileging
t h e f unct io nal
anat o my
o f a
building
o ne lo s es t h e
po s s ibilit y
o f
ach ieving
in arch it ec-
t ure a neut ralizat io n o f all t h e
part s
in a no nh ierarch ical wh o le -
t h at
is ,
an abs t ract
arch it ect ure)
wo uld
make it s
way
int o van
Do es burg's
mind in
1922,
wh en h e wo uld be
bus y s abo t aging
t h e B auh aus at
Weimar.
74.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 69;
T h e New
Art , p.
171.
75. Piet
Mo ndrian, "L'Art pure-
ment
abs t rait ," publis h ed
in Vo ulo ir
19
(March 1926): n.p.,
under t h e
t it le
(pro vided by
F61ix
Del
Marle)
o f "Art : Puret 6 + Abs t ract io n." I
quo t e
f ro m t h e
o riginal manus cript
(t h e
t ext
publis h ed
in Vo ulo ir was
mo dif ied), t rans f o rming s ligh t ly
t h e
t rans lat io n o f t h is
manus cript pro -
vided in T h e New
Art , p.
201.
76. Let t er t o Alf red
Ro t h ,
28
June
1933; quo t ed
in
Ro t h , B egegnung
mit
Pio nieren, p.
176.
77. Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 69;
T h e New
Art , p.
171.
Mo ndrian wo uld us e t h is s ent ence
again
in "L'Arch it ect ure f ut ure n0o -
plas t icienne," p. 13; t h is t ext in
L'Arch it ect ure vivant e is , in
gen-
eral, a
s ummary adapt ed
f ro m "De
Realis eering."
78.
Mo ndrian, "De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 69;
T h e New
Art , p.
171.
79. Mo ndrian s eems t o h ave re-
garded B erlage h igh ly .
Wh en van
Do es burg
was
writ ing
"De T aak der
nieuwe
arch it ect uur," Mo ndrian
wro t e
h im, "Do
y o u really
t h ink it
is
neces s ary
t o at t ack
B erlage?
Is h e
really
t h e
repres ent at ive
o f o ur ene-
mies ? I
alway s co ns idered h im as
t h e
o nly arch it ect , art is t , pers o nal-
it y ,
et c. -
but o ld-f as h io ned.
Well,
y o u
do no t h ave t o
reply
h ere be-
caus e o n
t h at ,
we mus t t alk di-
rect ly " (let t er
o f 15 Sept ember
1920,
Van
Do es burg Arch ive).
80.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 68; T h e New
Art , p.
171.
81. See t h e let t er o f van
Do es burg
t o Walt er
Dexel,
21 Oct o ber
1925,
in
Ho mmage ac Walt er Dexel
-
B eit riige
zum 90
Geburt s t ag
des
Kiins t lers
(St arnberg: Jo s ef
Keller
Verlag, 1980), pp.
84-85.
82. Piet
Mo ndrian,
"Mo et de
s ch ilderkuns t minder
waardige zijn
aan de bo uwkuns t ?" De St ijl 6,
no .
5
(1923): 64;
t rans . in T h e New
Art ,
p.
174.
83. Piet
Mo ndrian, "Les Art s de la
beaut 6
et no t re ambiance
t angible,"
Mano met re 6
(Ly o ns , Augus t 1924):
107;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p.
185.
Alt h o ugh publis h ed
in
1924,
t h e
t ext was writ t en in 1923.
84. Piet
Mo ndrian,
"Le Ho me -
la Rue - la
Cit e,"
Vo ulo ir 25
(1927): n.p.
In t h is
t ext ,
f o r t h e f irs t
t ime,
Mo ndrian t o o k a
public po s i-
t io n
agains t
t h e "element aris m" o f
van
Do es burg.
85. Piet
Mo ndrian,
"A New Real-
is m" (April 1943); t rans . in T h e
New Art , p. 347.
86. Piet Mo ndrian, "Pure Plas t ic
Art " (March 1942); t rans . in T h e
New Art , p. 343.
87. Mo ndrian ref us ed t h is t erm f o r
h is o wn art , arguing t h at h e elimi-
nat ed t h e "des t ruct ive" as pect o f
neo plas t icis m; but t h e impo rt ant
t h ing h ere is no t a ques t io n o f t er-
mino lo gy : Mo ndrian s h ares wit h
Malevit ch , El Lis s it zky , and all t h e
members o f t h e Rus s ian avant -
garde, t h is t eleo lo gical vis io n o f t h e
f ut ure
dis appearance
o f art as a s ep-
arat e act ivit y .
88. See Mo ndrian, "De Nieuwe
B eelding in de s ch ilderkuns t ," pt . 5,
De St ijl 1, no . 5 (March 1918): 51,
and pt . 6, De St ijl 1, no . 7 (May
1918): 76 n. 5; t rans . in T h e New
Art , pp. 41-42, 46 n. z.
89. Mo ndrian, "De
Realis eering,"
pt . 1, p. 43; T h e New
Art , p.
168.
90.
Mo ndrian,
"Het
bepaalde
en
h et
o nbepaalde," p. 16; T h e New
Art , p. 71.
91.
Mo ndrian,
"De Nieuwe B eeld-
ing
in de
s ch ilderkuns t ," pt . 6, p.
76 n. 2; T h e New
Art , p.
44 n.w.
92. Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke
en ab-
s t ract e realit eit "; T h e New Art , p.
86.
93.
Mo ndrian, Le
Neo -plas t icis me,
p. 1; T h e New Art , p.
134.
94. Undat ed let t er t o
Oud,
A. 406.
95. T h is is wh at Mo ndrian s t at ed
t o a jo urnalis t during
an int erview.
"B ij Piet Mo ndrian," De T elegraaf ,
12
Sept ember 1926.
96. Ch armio n vo n Wiegand,
"Mo ndrian," p.
60. Ano t h er amus -
ing example:
Mo ndrian's s t udio is
des cribed
by many
vis it o rs as a h a-
ven o f s ilence, in line wit h Mo ndri-
an's ins is t ence, during
t h e "clas s ical
perio d"
o f
neo plas t icis m,
t h at h is art
128
B o is
s t rive t o ward abs o lut e
repo s e.
Yet
s ilence needs no is e t o be "det er-
mined,"
as h e wo uld h ave
s aid,
s ince wit h in t h e
neo plas t ic
dialect i-
cal
s y s t em every t h ing
is "det er-
mined"
by
it s
co nt rary . Sh o rt ly
af t er
h aving
mo ved t o h is new
s t udio ,
lo -
cat ed o n t h e rue du
Depart , i.e.,
righ t
o n t h e o ld
Mo nt parnas s e
s t a-
t io n,
Mo ndrian wro t e t o van Do es -
burg:
"Yo u writ e abo ut t h e no is e o f
t h e t rains :
y es ,
it is s o met imes irk-
s o me,
but it is
very
beaut if ul wh en
I wo rk. It is
o nly
wh en I do n't
wo rk,
wh en I want t o
s leep
f o r ex-
ample,
t h at it is h o rrendo us . At
leas t wit h t h e windo w
o pen.
. . . At
any
rat e t h is no is e is bet t er t h an t h e
s creaming
o f
ch ildren,
f o r
example,
o r t h e
t alking
o f t h e
neigh bo rs
in
t h e
h o us e,
as in
my previo us
s t u-
dio "
(undat ed,
Van
Do es burg
Ar-
ch ive).
It is
int eres t ing
t o no t e t h at
Mo ndrian's f as cinat io n f o r t h e no is e
o f t h e
met ro po lis
wh ile at wo rk h as
a
precedent ,
reco unt ed
by
Walt er
B enjamin
in h is bo o k o n B aude-
laire: t h at o f Ch arles Dickens mis s -
ing
t h e no is es o f t h e s t reet s o f
Lo ndo n wh ile h e was
t raveling,
and
f eeling incapable
o f
wo rking
wit h -
o ut t h em
(Walt er B enjamin,
Ch arles B audelaire: A
Ly ric
Po et in
t h e Era
o f High Capit alis m,
t rans .
Harry
Zo h n
[Lo ndo n:
New Lef t
B o o ks , 1973], p. 49).
97.
Mo ndrian,
"De Nieuwe B eeld-
ing
in de
s ch ilderkuns t ," pt . 3,
De
St ijl 1,
no . 3
(1918): 31;
T h e New
Art , p. 37.
98.
Mo ndrian,
"Le Ho me - la
Rue
- la
Cit e," n.p.;
T h e New
Art , p.
208.
99.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 66;
T h e New Art , p.
170.
100. Let t er t o Oud 18
Sept ember
1921,
A. 393.
101. Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 66;
T h e New Art , p.
170.
102.
Nancy T ro y ,
T h e De
St ijl
En-
viro nment , pas s im.
See als o
idem,
"Mo ndrian's
Des igns
f o r t h e Salo n
de Madame B .
..
in
Dres den,"
Art B ullet in
(December 1980):
640-
47, and "Piet Mo ndrian
At elier,"
Art s
Magazine (December 1978):
82-87.
103. See
Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke
en abs t ract e
realit eit ,"
De St ill 3,
no . 9
(July 1920): 75; T h e New
Art ,
p. 119.
104.
Ibid., De
St ijl 3,
no . 6
(April
1920): 55; T h e New
Art , p. 110.
105. See Umbert o
B o ccio ni,
"Manif es t e t ech nique
de la
s culp-
t ure
f ut uris t e," (1912)
in Gio vanni
Lis t a,
Fut uris me
(Laus anne: L'Age
d'Ho mme, 1973);
f o r St rzemins ki
and
Ko bro ,
s ee "La
co mpo s it io n
de
I'es pace
- Les calculs des
ry t h mes
s pat io -t empo rels ,"
in Wladis law
St rzemins ki and
Kat arzy na Ko bro ,
L'es pace
unis t e
(Laus anne: L'Age
d'Ho mme, 1977).
See als o
my es s ay
o n t h eir
writ ings ,
"St rzemins ki et
Ko bro : En
quet e
de la
mo t ivat io n,"
Crit ique
440-41
(January -February
1984):
70-94.
Mo ndrian,
f o r h is
part ,
admit t ed t h at f o r h im t radi-
t io nal
s culpt ure
and arch it ect ure al-
ready
h ad t h e ro le o f
"det ermining"
s pace
"t o s o me
ext ent ,"
and t h at h e
was in f act co ncerned t o
"int ens if y "
t h e s o lut io ns
already
f o und in t h o s e
art s wh en
t h ey
"reduced t h e
caprice
o f t h e nat ural"
(Le Ngo -plas t icis me,
p. 7; T h e New
Art , p. 140).
106.
Mo ndrian, "De
Realis eering,"
pt . 1, p. 44; T h e New
Art , p.
168.
107.
Ibid., pt . 2, p. 69;
T h e New
Art , p.
171. T h e edit o rs o f T h e
New Art f o und in Mo ndrian's
pa-
pers
t h is "unt it led t ears h eet f ro m an
unident if ied French
publicat io n,
c.
1930s ,"
wh ere h e
expres s es
h is
views o n f as h io n: "Fas h io n is no t
o nly
t h e f ait h f ul mirro r o f a
perio d,
it is o ne o f t h e mo s t direct
plas t ic
expres s io ns
o f h uman cult ure. In
f as h io n, h o wever, jus t
as in f ree
art ,
we s ee a
t endency t o ret urn t o nat -
ural
appearances . No t h ing
is mo re
unh uman t h an
regres s io n.
In o rder
no t t o f all back
merely
int o a new
expres s io n o f t h e
pas t ,
it is t h eref o re
mo s t
impo rt ant
f o r f as h io n t o creat e
an
appearance expres s ing
'man-na-
t ure' in equivalence . . . t o
o ppo s e
t h e
undulat ing lines and s o f t f o rms
o f t h e
bo dy
wit h t aut ened lines and
unif ied planes
s o as t o creat e mo re
equilibrat ed relat io ns h ips " (T h e New
Art , p. 226).
108. Mo ndrian, Le
Neo -plas t i-
cis me, pp. 4-5; T h e New Art , p.
138.
109. Mo ndrian
co mplained
o f t h is
in a let t er t o Alf red
Ro t h , 28
June
1933; cit ed in Ro t h , B egegnung
mit
Pio nieren, p.
176.
110. Let t er t o van
Do es burg
o f
1922; cit ed
by
H. L. C.
Jaf f 6,
De
St ijl: T h e Dut ch Co nt ribut io n t o
Mo dern Art , 2d ed.
(Cambridge:
Harvard
Univers it y Pres s , 1986),
p.
162.
111. Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke
en
abs t ract e realit eit ," De St ill 3, no . 6
(April 1920): 55; T h e New
Art ,
pp. 109-10.
112. Mo ndrian, "Het bepaalde en
h et
o nbepaalde," p.
19 n. 9; T h e
New Art , p. 72 n.u. It s h o uld be
no t ed h o w Mo ndrian dis t ances
h ims elf h ere f ro m van der Leck, o r
bet t er, h o w h e s ubvert s h is
pro po s i-
t io ns .
113. Ibid.
114. Mo ndrian, "Nat uurlijke en
abs t ract e realit eit ," De St ijl 3, no . 7
(May 1920): 59; T h e New Art , p.
113. T h e "t h ree- dimens io nal
unit y "
t h at Mo ndrian
s peaks
o f is
perh aps
a
laps us (in
t h e co nt ext o ne wo uld
h ave
expect ed
a "t wo -dimens io nal
unit y ").
Wh at ever t h e cas e, De St ijl
did no t
publis h
an errat um, and t h e
manus cript
o f t h is t ext is no t f o r t h e
mo ment acces s ible. It s h o uld be
no t ed t h at t h is is t h e o nly t ext
wh ere Mo ndrian (t o my kno wledge)
ment io ns t h e "f o urt h dimens io n"
dear t o van Do es burg. T h e pas s age
in ques t io n reads : ". . . as s o o n as
we begin t o s ee univers ally
-
t h en
we no lo nger s ee f ro m o ne po int o f
view. It is indeed a h appy ph eno m-
eno n t h at t h e mo s t recent paint ing
reveals an increas ingly co ns cio us
s earch f o r a pure and many -s ided
repres ent at io n o f
t h ings ,
becaus e it
expres s es t h e new and mo re co n-
s cio us s pirit o f o ur t ime, wh ich
as pires t o a mo re det erminat e
expres s io n o f t h e univers al. T h is as -
pirat io n h as been as cribed t o o ur
s t ro nger awarenes s o f t h e f o urt h di-
mens io n, a co ncept io n t h at
act ually
do es co me t o t h e f o re in recent art
as part ial o r co mplet e des t ruct io n o f
t h ree-dimens io nal nat uralis t ic ex-
pres s io n and reco ns t ruct io n
o f a new
plas t ic expres s io n,
les s limit ed in it s
vis io n" (Ibid., p. 99, Mo ndrian's
emph as is ). Mo ndrian's t o ne is very
res erved, t o
s ay t h e leas t , wit h re-
gard t o t h e "f o urt h dimens io n." In a
let t er t o van Do es burg relat ed t o
t h is pas s age, h e wro t e, "Again I did
no t s ay much abo ut t h e f o urt h di-
mens io n! B ut o ne
get s s o
quickly
int o an o ccult t errain" (14 Sept em-
ber 1919). Fro m t h e
beginning o f
t h eir
co rres po ndence, van
Do es burg
t ried t o rais e in Mo ndrian an int er-
es t f o r t h e "f o urt h dimens io n," and
received wh at amo unt s t o a po lit e
ref us al t o t ake t h is
ques t io n int o
co ns iderat io n. On o ne o ccas io n, it
s eems t h at Mo ndrian h ad brief ly
acquies ced t o van Do es burg's ins is -
t ence and h ad added s o met h ing o n
t h e t o pic in o ne o f t h e ins t allment s
o f "De Nieuwe B eelding in de
s ch ilderkuns t "; but h e mus t h ave f i-
nally reject ed t h e idea, as no t h ing
appears in t h e publis h ed vers io n.
"On t h e f o urt h dimens io n, I was
t o o brief . No w it s s eems t o me bet -
t er. I do no t s ay any t h ing o f t h e
o t h er dimens io ns : it will never
129
make a f undament al dif f erence"
(undat ed let t er,
c.
January 1918,
Van
Do es burg Arch ive).
Mo ndri-
an's res is t ance t o t h e no t io n o f t h e
"f o urt h
dimens io n," amo ng
t h e
mo s t celebrat ed h umdrum o f h is
epo ch ,
is
quit e s ignif icant .
It can
indeed be linked t o h is ref us al o f
t ime as an element t o be t aken int o
acco unt in
paint ing (o r,
as we will
s ee,
in
arch it ect ure); but ,
abo ve
all,
it s h o uld cas t s o me do ubt o n t h e
numero us
at t empt s
t o reduce neo -
plas t icis m
t o a
pict o rial
illus t rat io n
o f es o t eric do ct rines s uch as t h eo s o -
ph y .
Mo ndrian's int eres t in t h eo s o -
ph y
was in t rut h
very s t ro ng
at t h e
t ime o f h is
pas s age
t o abs t ract io n
(1915-17). Nevert h eles s ,
it dimin-
is h ed
s ignif icant ly
at t h e
very begin-
ning
o f t h e
1920s ,
as is wit nes s ed in
bo t h h is
publis h ed writ ings ,
wh ere
t h e
t o pic
ceas ed t o be
ment io ned,
and in h is
co rres po ndence;
wh ere it
is t h en
o nly
alluded
t o ,
if at
all,
in
a
negat ive
f as h io n.
Furt h ermo re,
it
remains t o be
pro ven
t h at t h e inf lu-
ence o f
Sh o enmaekers ,
wh o s e name
is brandis h ed
by any o ne t aking
an
o ccult is t
reading
o f Mo ndrian as t h e
majo r appro ach ,
co ncerns
any t h ing
bey o nd
s o me
t ermino lo gic
bo rro w-
ings .
At
any rat e,
Mo ndrian's lack
o f int eres t in t h e "f o urt h dimen-
s io n" s h o ws t h at
any t h ing
t h at
co uld no t
h elp
co ns o lidat e t h e t h e-
o ret ical
apparat us
t h at h e was elab-
o rat ing
f o r h is
paint ing (t h at is ,
any t h ing
t h at co uld no t ent er t h e
dialect ical
s y s t em
o f
o ppo s it io ns
o n
wh ich t h e wh o le o f h is
ent erpris e
res t ed)
remained
ut t erly ins ignif i-
cant t o h im. T h is at t it ude co nt ras t s
s everely
wit h t h at o f t h e eclect icis m
o f van
Do es burg,
o ne o f t h e
great
Euro pean ch ampio ns
o f t h e "f o urt h
dimens io n" in t h e 1920s
(s ee
Linda
Dalry mple Henders o n,
T h e Fo urt h
Dimens io n and No n-Euclidean Ge-
o met ry
in Mo dern Art
[Princet o n:
Princet o n
Univers it y Pres s , 1983],
pp. 321-34).
115.
Mo ndrian,
"De
Realis eering,"
pt . 2, p. 68;
T h e New
Art , p.
171.
116. Ibid.
117. Mo ndrian,
"L'Arch it ect ure f u-
t ure
n6o -plas t icienne,"
p. 13; T h e
New
Art , p.
197.
118. It is t rue t h at Mo ndrian im-
mediat ely
rect if ied h is
po s it io n:
"Every t h ing
mo ves in t h e bar and at
t h e s ame t ime is at res t ." "De
Jazz
en de
Neo plas t iek,"
Int ernat io nale
Revue 110
1,
no . 12
(1927);
t rans .
in T h e New
Art ,
p. 222.
119. Mo ndrian,
"A New
Realis m,"
p.
350.
120. Let t er o f 12
Sept ember 1921,
cit ed
by T ro y ,
T h e De
St ijl
Envi-
ro nment , p.
70. T h e
ques t io n
o f
t ime
wo uld, indeed,
be t h e f irs t
co ns cio us
dis agreement
bet ween
Mo ndrian and van
Do es burg (unt il
t h is
ques t io n o ccurred,
Mo ndrian
h ad
alway s
been
quick
t o as s ume
t h at dif f erences o f
po s it io n
bet ween
t h em were
o nly
mat t ers o f t ermi-
no lo gy ,
and was even
t empt ed
t o do
s o o n t h is
o ccas io n).
In a let t er
dat ed 25
May
1922 and co mment -
ing upo n
van
Do es burg's
f amo us
lect ure "Der Wille zum St ijl" (de-
livered in
Iena, Weimar,
and B erlin
and
publis h ed
in De
St ijl 5,
no s . 2
and 3
(1922): 23-41),
Mo ndrian
wro t e: "I do no t
agree
at all wit h
t h e
po s it io ning
in t ime o f arch it ec-
t ure,
becaus e t h e new
principle
do es
away
wit h t ime . .. becaus e I
want ,
o n t h e
co nt rary ,
t o eliminat e
t ime in t h e
co nt emplat io n
als o o f
arch ."; quo t ed
and dis cus s ed in
Ho ek,
"Piet
Mo ndrian," p.
72.
Mo ndrian's
reject io n
o f t ime in ar-
ch it ect ure is a f unct io n o f h is
rejec-
t io n o f t ime in
paint ing.
As
s uch ,
it
belo ngs
t o a
lo ng
t radit io n t h at ex-
t ends back t o
Les s ing and,
via a
s ubdued
neo -Kant is m,
wo uld be es -
s ent ial t o
pict o rial
mo dernis m as
reint erpret ed by
Clement
Greenberg
(but already
f o rmulat ed in an exem-
plary way by
Wladis law St rzemins ki
in h is 1927 t ext "Unis m in Paint -
ing").
Mo ndrian's adh erence t o t h e
s y s t em
o f
H/V,
as van
Do es burg
wo uld
s ay ,
was
ent irely go verned by
h is
reject io n
o f
t ime,
and h is ref us al
o f element aris m wo uld be bas ed o n
t h e s ame
gro und:
an
o blique line,
being dy namic, co nvey s
a s ens e o f
t ime t h at is no t immanent t o t h e
s pace
o f
paint ing;
it
glides
abo ve t h e
s urf ace and makes t h e
backgro und
recede. B ut
if ,
as f ar as
paint ing
is
co ncerned,
Mo ndrian's
po s it io n
is
in co ns o nance wit h h is wh o le
s y s -
t em,
it do es no t make much s ens e
f o r arch it ect ure -
alt h o ugh
t h e in-
t eres t o f arch it ect s in t ime
(and
in
t h e
percept io n
o ne can h ave o f
buildings
wh ile
mo ving
in
it ) was ,
and s t ill
is ,
rat h er t h e
except io n
t h an t h e rule.
121. Let t er o f El
Lis s it zky
t o So -
ph ie Kiippers ,
2 March
1926;
cit ed
in
So ph ie Kiippers -Lis s it zky ,
El Lis -
s it zky : Lif e, Let t ers ,
T ext s
(Lo ndo n:
T h ames and
Huds o n, 1968), p.
74.
122. As
repo rt ed by J.
B akema in
"Riet veld,"
Fo rum 4
(Ams t erdam,
1960-61): n.p.
123. On t h is wh o le
epis o de,
s ee
B o is and
T ro y ,
"De
St ijl
et I'arch i-
t ect ure
a Paris ," pp.
64-70.
124. In "De
expo s it ie
t e
Parijs
-
Pro en Co nt ra h et Ho llands ch e
Paviljo en
- Een
enquet e,"
Het
Vaderland,
4
Augus t
1925.
125. Let t er t o
J. J.
P.
Oud,
un-
dat ed but dat able
Sept ember 1925,
A.
418, Fo ndat io n Cus t o dia.
126. Mo ndrian's t ext is "De Huif
naar den
Wind,"
De
St ijl 6,
no s .
6-7
(1924): 88;
t rans . in T h e New
Art , p.
181.
127. T h is
let t er, po s t ed
f ro m Do o r-
drech t is co ns erved in t h e arch ives
o f
Harry
Ho lt zman at t h e B einecke
Rare B o o k and
Manus cript Library ,
Yale
Univers it y .
I t h ank Herbert
Henkels f o r
drawing my
at t ent io n t o
it .
Figure
Credit s
1.
Co urt es y
o f T h e B einecke Rare
B o o k and
Manus cript Library ,
Yale
Univers it y .
2. Fro m Alf red
B arr, Cubis m and
Abs t ract Art
(New
Yo rk: Mus eum
o f Mo dern Art , 1936).
3, 5, 7,
17.
Co urt es y
o f t h e aut h o r.
4. Nederlands Do cument at iecen-
t rum vo o r de B o uwkuns t , Ams t er-
dam.
6. Fro m De
St ijl 6,
no s . 6-7
(1924).
8-10. St aat lich e Kuns t s ammlun-
gen,
Dres den.
Ph o t o graph s co urt es y
o f
Nancy T ro y .
11. Co llect io n
St edelijk
Van Abbe-
mus eum.
12-14. Do cument at io n
Arch ive,
Gemeent emus eum, T h e
Hague.
15. Fo ndat io n
Cus t o dia,
Ins t it ut
N6erlandais , Paris .
16. Fro m De
St ijl 6,
no s . 10-11
(1925).
130