Red, yellow, and blue in Liverpool

Tate Liverpool is currently showing a selection the work Mondrian is most famous for: the iconic neo-plastic gridded works in red, yellow, blue, and black and white. Although a relatively small exhibition, the visitor gets an eyeful of Mondrian as we follow his journey from Paris to London and finally New York. The show coincides with the 70th anniversary of Mondrian’s death.

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Reconstruction of 26 rue du Depart, Paris based on 1926 photograph by Paul Delbo
© 2014 STAM, Research and Production: Frans Postma Delft-NL. Photo: Fas Keuzenkamp
© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

“Mondrian saw urban development as part of human evolution towards a more abstract environment.” I think this sentence, which I saw on a notice board at Tate Liverpool, says it all. It links Piet Mondrian’s abstract compositions to architecture, and adds context to his transition from a figurative painter to a radical abstract artist.

Mondrian started to represent architecture with a cubism-like style and later turned to representing ocean waves with simple lines. Picasso had a large influence, as Mondrian evolved more towards abstraction. Tate Liverpool shows ‘The Tree’ in the first rooms, in my view not a cubist work per se, but influenced by it. Mondrian later developed his own distinctive style, which he proclaimed ‘neo-plasticism’. Interestingly, I saw Tate Modern’s Malevich show the evening before heading to Liverpool and can’t help but draw parallels between these two confident artists, each proclaiming an art style of their own (suprematism in the case of Malevich).

Mondrian’s paintings were based on shifting compositions of color blocks, and in his studios he moved physical colored panels around the walls as part of his creative process. So I was delighted to find that Tate Liverpool shows a recreated Mondrian’s studio at 26 rue du Départ, Paris as part of the exhibition – realised by Frans Postma, based on 1926 photograph by Paul Delbo (as did the Centre Pompidou in their 2010-11 Mondrian / De Stijl exhibition). Visitors can experience the setting where so many of Mondrian’s neoplasticism masterpieces were created. Tate Liverpool exhibition also includes the original rectangular colored cards from Mondrian’s New York studio wall compositions.

Mondrian left for New York via Liverpool in September 1940, a perfect excuse to hold the exhibition in Liverpool, and a perfect excuse for myself and Mr. BB to visit the city for the first time. We also saw the Tate Liverpool’s impressive permanent collection and several temporary exhibitions associated with the ‘A Needle Walks into a Haystack’ show. Claude Parent and Nasreen Mohamedi stood out.

We explored the Liverpool Biennial, one of the top draws for our weekend in Liverpool, but were disappointed. Tate had the best exhibition, whereas the The Old Blind School, a derelict building, was more interesting for the venue than the works. The one stand out was Judith Hopf. I love Whistler, who was at the Bluecoat, but I was disappointed not to see any dialogue with contemporary artists. Odd for a contemporary art biennial.

Mondrian and his Studios and Nasreen Mohamedi are at Tate Liverpool until 5 October. Claude Parent is on show at Tate Liverpool until 26 October, and the Liverpool Biennial runs until the same date at various locations.

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Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937 – 42
© Tate Photography, 2014
© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

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