Losing Control with the Boogie Woogie
Posted by danspira
(NOTE: For an optimal experience of this blog posting, please beginning playing the music from the embedded video link where indicated, using headphones, while reading)
Standing there in the galleries of MoMA, I saw a lot of classic, seen-it-a-thousand-times-before art that no longer held any magic or surprises for me. Then suddenly, something jumped out at me, startling me with strange feelings of intimate familiarity… it was my old friend, Piet Mondrian…
Ah, that crazy cat Piet Mondrian… he was the dominant and most strident voice of the De Stijl artistic movement of the early 20th century… the guy who wrote letters and manifestos declaring the “end of painting” with a brand of pure geometric abstraction that he and his Dutch buddies called neoplasticism.
I was transfixed by sheer physicality of Mondrian’s paintings… seeing not a work of art mechanically reproduced onto a flat screen or page of a book…. but feeling the full aura of a nearby object in the room.
In particular, I was moved by Mondrian’s penultimate piece, Broadway Boogie Woogie (“BBW”) that he painted in 1942-1943:
(click the video link below, to roll the music…)
Piet Mondrian was intense. At the height of De Stijl in the 1920’s, he insisted that you (if you were in his group) could paint anything you wanted to…
..anything, that is, as long as it only contained straight vertical and horizontal lines…
…and a had a few squares or rectangles…
..and those were colored white, black, grey or a primary color.
Meanwhile, the actual founder and leader of the De Stijl group,Theo van Doesburg, prefered to explore matters slightly more freely than our friend Piet.
In fact, at one point Theo had the temerity to start working with (gasp!) straight diagonal lines and (double gasp!) blends of primary colors.
Mondrian was incensed to the point of near-violence… after all, he already had simple solution to the “problem” of diagonals… just tilt the frame, to straighten-out reality:
Theo van Doesburg did not relent as he and Mondrian’s diagonal-orthogonal debate raged on.
Ever the playful artist, van Doesburg continued to fool around with the De Stijl “rules,” even using Piet’s most hated color (green) and mixing – yes, mixing! – diagonal and non-diagonal lines.
Well, this relationship was over.
As the years went on, Mondrian dug his heels in deeper and deeper into his orthodoxy, creating ever more “pure” compositions.
It wasn’t until the 1940’s that his heels would be grooving on the streets of New York City, after Mondrian fled the burning landscape of WWII Europe.
Living in (and loving) Manhattan, Mondrian discovered a kind of piano dance music derived from the blues, called boogie woogie.
He’d paint in his tightly controlled, exacting way during the day; then let loose, partying and rocking all night…
Which brings us back to BBW:
This artwork, his last completed painting, was the start of a new chapter of Mondrian’s career that ended too soon. Mondrian died of pneumonia on February 1, 1944.
Those who study Mondrian’s art in detail can trace out the evolution of BBW starting with a “revolutionary” diamond piece where he introduced (gasp!) lines that were not black…
..and moving through pieces such as these…