Okay, obviously some of these photos were taken in Manhattan, but it is interesting to see how many pictures one can take on a single theme, and within four blocks. I love New York.
Anyways, I would like to tell you about my inspiration here. In college, I had a wonderful 20th Century Art History professor, Stephen Myers, who really turned me on to some previously under-appreciated movements in modern art. While I always found De Stjl to be aesthetically pleasant, before Professor Myers’ fine tutelage, I hardly grasped the sociological commentary, much less it’s spiritual underpinnings:
Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white.
According to Professor Myers, Mondrian was the first artist to request that gallery walls be painted white while exhibiting his work. The idea was that the viewer would be able to imagine the parallel and perpendicular lines of his paintings extending into infinity, creating a meditative atmosphere which preceded the works of Kandinsky, Klee, Rothko, etc.
(Side note: I was recently asked to participate in an informal personality test, in which I described my feelings of being in a white room. I said I would find it peaceful yet dull. The white room, apparently, represents death.)
While Cubism aimed to represent three dimensions simultaneously on a two-dimensional plane, De Stjl was shooting for the fourth dimension and beyond. At the same time, further east, in what was soon to become the Soviet Republic, a movement called Suprematism was evolving. Founded by Kazimir Malevich and his peers, Suprematism sought to replace the lush Russian Orthodox icons found in most households with simplified shapes such as perfect squares and circles, painted as carefully as a Tibetan sand painting, an illuminated manuscript or a rich traditional needlepoint.
While Malevich participated closely in the cultural movement surrounding the Russian Revolution, creating propaganda and populist design for everyday use, he soon found himself alienated from the new regime:
This development in artistic expression came about when Russia was in a revolutionary state, ideas were in ferment, and the old order was being swept away. As the new order became established, and Stalinism took hold from 1924 on, the state began limiting the freedom of artists. From the late 1920s the Russian avant-garde experienced direct and harsh criticism from the authorities and in 1934 the doctrine of Socialist Realism became official policy, and prohibited abstraction and divergence of artistic expression.
While Suprematism directly influenced the Bauhaus and other user-friendly schools of high design, Malevich himself did not fare so well. Persecuted by his government, yet unwilling to leave his beloved homeland, Malevich spent the rest of his days designing his own tomb. Although he may be less well-known than those he influenced (and remarkably more subtle in his execution of his ideas), his presence is certainly felt to this day. His clean design aesthetic has become a part of our everyday lives, the new icon lovingly stored in the corner of the kitchen.
I began to think of Malevich and Mondrian upon reading the following passage from Wilhelm‘s translation of the I Ching (Hexagram 2, The Receptive), so I will leave you with that:
Six in the second place means:
Straight, square, great.
Yet nothing remains unfurthered.
The symbol of heaven is the circle, and that of earth is the square. Thus squareness is a primary quality of the earth. On the other hand, movement in a straight line, as well as magnitude, is a primary quality of the Creative. But all square things have their origin in a straight line and in turn from solid bodies. In mathematics, when we discriminate between lines, planes and solids, we find that rectangular planes result from straight lines, and cubic magnitudes from rectangular planes. The Receptive accommodates itself to the qualities of the Creative and makes them its own. Thus a square develops out of a straight line and a cube out of a square. this is compliance with the laws of the Creative; nothing is taken away, nothing added. Therefore the Receptive has no need of a special purpose of its own, nor of any effort; yet everything turns out as it should.