Perhaps it is because I am an art historian, but I feel the need to defend work made by Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944). Recently, a family member complained about the Dutch government paying 82 million guilders for his Victory Boogie Woogie (1942-1944), because a kid could do it.
I am an art teacher as well, so let me give it a go and try to explain some of the fundamentals regarding this legendary painter.
Piet Mondriaan was a highly intellectual man. The geometric patterns he is known for, are not as straight forward as they appear. He studied them over and over again, aiming to find the right balance. He pondered over the color schemes, and the sizes of the squares and black lines.
Imagine moving to New York with its skyscrapers, subway and all that jazz – hence the title – in the 1940s. It must have felt like entering a whole new world. The energy and speed could have been dazzling to Mondriaan and Victory Boogie Woogie suggests that same sort of dynamic.
His art works are considered transgressive: it was rule-breaking art and it changed the path of art. For Mondriaan colors no longer needed to reflect reality, represent a feeling or suggest an ambiance. In other words: his works were not about skills or painting a pretty picture. Instead, why not make the corner of a painting the top of it? Mondriaan found a new freedom in art, ignoring the rules of those days.
In 1997 a foundation representing the Dutch government bought Victory Boogie Woogie for 82 million guilders (37 million euros). To be honest, I don’t think the debate of this monetary value is an intellectual one. For me it is simple, fifty years before – when it was made – this art work was not about money, or how much it could be worth in the future. Indeed, there are artists for whom art as a commodity is a theme in their work, think Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons. But not for Piet Mondriaan. He had plenty of aspects such as color, rhythm and repetition to consider, to visualize and to share with the world.
As you might expect, I can only conclude that Piet Mondriaan’s work has been of great significance. But I doubt if this article will change someone’s mind, understanding that there is perhaps another perspective to Victory Boogie Woogie.
Additionally, I can imagine people being jealous of Mondriaan for not playing by the rules and having all that freedom. I know I am.
This post is also available in: Dutch