Margate – Piet Mondrian: “Mondrian and Color” at the Turner Contemporary Through September 21st, 2014

September 6th, 2014

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue (1921), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. © 2014 Mondrian:Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue (1921), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. © 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International

“I wish to approach truth as closely as is possible, and therefore I abstract everything until I arrive at the fundamental quality of objects,” Piet Mondrian’s quote reads in the introduction to his expansive retrospective at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.  The Dutch artist, who moved slowly but steadily through the early history of abstraction, explored a diverse body of work in his career, from early impressionist experiments through to his iconic grids, colorful, reductive patterns of black lines and squares of color.

Piet Mondrian, Molen (Mill) (1911), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands © 2014 Mondrian:Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International USA
Piet Mondrian, Molen (Mill) (1911), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands © 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International USA

Mondrian, an artist that started his career primarily working among the interpretive abstractions of late impressionism and early cubism, gradually branched out into his own aesthetic plane, driven primarily by a fervent desire for spiritual transcendence, and his own attempts to find that spark within the plane of his canvas.  Constantly exploring and experimenting with various styles and techniques, Mondrian eventually arrived at a remarkably singular body of work, combining two-dimensional planes with sharp variations in color to create dizzying, gridwork structures that paralleled a particular fascination with industrial efficiency in the early twentieth century.

Color is a the defining force in this exhibition, and the Turner makes no hesitation in emphasizing the artist’s ongoing fascination with the variations and eventually, the stark differences in tone, possible on the painted canvas.  Earlier works, like 1911’s Molen (Mill) is defined not by the artist’s masterful sense of scale and perspective (impressive in their own right), but in the evocative and occasionally surreal interplay of soft, glowing reds with the ground of cool blues.

Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary
Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary

These early sketches eventually give way to Mondrian’s more iconic patterned works, but the colors of his works make a remarkable case for uniting the artist’s body of work from his early figurative pieces to his abstract, blocky formations.  Similar hues can be found in works from his early career spread out and deconstructed, as the artist expanded his  colors from mere utilitarian applications to a more focused investigation of their own potentials.

Piet Mondrian, Farmhouse with Wash on the Line (1897), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands © 2014 Mondrian:Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International USA
Piet Mondrian, Farmhouse with Wash on the Line (1897), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands © 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International USA

While his works eventually boil down to primary reds, blues and yellows against a stark white and black grounding, the works collected turn these pieces from a somewhat confusing entry in the history of abstraction, to a more nuanced exploration of Mondrian’s own artistic exploration.  The painter’s obsession with color and form, shown early in his career through works like Farmhouse with Wash on the Line (where taut white strokes evoke linen sheets with minimal action), becomes a final realization, an attempt at distilling the most essential techniques of painting and applying them to a formulaic principle.

Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary
Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary

Mondrian’s experiment is an intriguing case for difference and variation.  Despite the minimal elements of his works, the final goal seems clear, and ultimately, successful: a search for a rigid, formal style that still leaves ample room for personal expression and individual interpretation of his techniques, time and again.

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Grid 8 Checker board Composition with Dark Colours (1919), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. © 2014 Mondrian:Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Grid 8: Checker board Composition with Dark Colours (1919), Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. © 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c:o HCR International

Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary
Mondrian and Color (Installation View), via Turner Contemporary

— D. Creahan

Read more:
“Mondrian and Color” [Turner Contemporary]
“Mondrian and Color, Turner Contemporary Margate, review: ‘profound'” [The Telegraph]
“Mondrian and Color, Turner Contemporary, Margate” [The Independent]
“Mondrian and His Studios; Mondrian and Color” [The Guardian]