Like its parallel movements of radical Modern design -- the Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, and Italian Rationalism -- the Dutch De Stijl movement emerged in the aftermath of the unprecedented carnage and social uncertainty of the First World War. Signaling a radical... [more]
Like its parallel movements of radical Modern design -- the Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, and Italian Rationalism -- the Dutch De Stijl movement emerged in the aftermath of the unprecedented carnage and social uncertainty of the First World War. Signaling a radical departure from the tradition and dogma of late-nineteenth-century culture, the De Stijl rejected the naturalistic impulse of bourgeois art and its attendant cult of the individual that was notably enshrined in Romanticism. De Stijl was conceived as an antidote to what its founders saw as a conflict between the individual and the universal. The movement posited a new 'plastic' art that signaled a new consciousness, as proclaimed in the sixth point of the first De Stijl manifesto of 1918:
Therefore the founders of Neo-Plasticism call on those who believe in the reform of art and culture to destroy those things which prevent further development, just as in the new plastic art, by removing the restriction of natural forms, they have eliminated what stands in the way of the expression of pure art, the extreme consequence of every concept of art.
That the De Stijl artists sought to create an art that would become a mediating force in a much broader realignment of social conditions was nothing short of utopian. As such, the conditions for the new art would be fixed on immutable laws of composition and design.
Largely associated with three important figures -- the painters Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesberg, and the architect and furniture-maker Gerrit Rietveld -- De Stijl (meaning, literally, 'the style') was perhaps first developed in Mondrian's post-Cubist paintings, which consist largely of broken horizontal and vertical lines. These works evolved into more spare geometric compositions of orthogonal elements, which are rendered in primary colors set against a white field. In 1917, Rietveld created the canonical 'Red/Blue Chair' and projected the Neo-Plastic aesthetic into three dimensions. The chair, with its simple planes of primary colors set against a lattice of interlocking black bars, was above all a modest piece and followed the Bauhaus ideology of producing modern furniture simply, cheaply, and efficiently. Indeed, Van Doesberg taught, for a time, at the Bauhaus, enabling him to widen the De Stijl circle to include such luminaries as the Russian El Lissitzky. As noted by Kenneth Frampton, by 1921, under Lissitzky's influence, Van Doesberg began 'to project, as axonometric drawings, a series of hypothetical architectural constructs, each comprising an asymmetrical cluster of articulated planar elements suspended in space about a volumetric center.'
The universalizing tendency of the De Stijl soon gave way to the broader, more objective concerns of the Modern movement. For example, while Rietveld's famous Schroder House of 1924 in Utrecht -- with movable walls and partitions assuring a dynamic, as opposed to static, sense of space -- exemplified the Neo-Plastic ideal of objects floating in space, he began to embrace a more technical architectural position. The project of De Stijl became, through necessity and evolution, a broader trajectory dedicated to social concerns and conditions. The desire to create architecture for the people through means of production, rather than an architecture simply guided by aesthetic concerns, became a rallying cry of a broader European Modernism. [show less]