Mondrian’s painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years


A painting by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian has hung upside down in various museums since it was first exhibited 75 years ago, an art historian has found, but has warned it could disintegrate if left undone was hanging on the right side now.

The 1941 photo, an intricate trellis intertwined with red, yellow, black and blue tape titled New York City I, was first exhibited at New York’s MoMA in 1945 but hung in the art collection of the German Federal State of the North Rhine. -Westphalia in Düsseldorf since 1980.

The way the image is currently hung shows the multicolored lines thickening at the bottom, suggesting an extremely simplified version of a horizon line. However, when curator Susanne Meyer-Büser began researching the museum’s new exhibition on the Dutch avant-garde artist earlier this year, she realized the image should be the other way around.

“The grid thickening should be up high, like a dark sky,” Meyer-Büser said. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious. I’m 100% sure the photo is the wrong way round.

Indicators suggesting incorrect hanging are many. The oil painting of the same name and size, New York City, which is exhibited in Paris at the Center Pompidou, has the thickening of the lines at the top.

A photograph of Mondrian’s studio, taken a few days after the artist’s death and published in the American lifestyle magazine Town and Country in June 1944, also shows the same image sitting on an easel the other way around.

Meyer-Büser said it’s likely that Mondrian worked by starting his complex overlay with a line just at the top of the frame and then working down, which would also explain why some of the yellow lines stop a few millimeters from the bottom. edge.

“Was it a mistake when someone took the work out of its box? Was anyone negligent while the work was in transit? “said the curator. “It’s impossible to say.”

Part of the problem is that, unlike most of Mondrian’s earlier works, New York City I does not bear the artist’s signature, perhaps because he had not considered it complete.

Despite all the evidence that the work is currently displayed upside down, the work will be shown as it has hung for 75 years in the new Mondrian. Salon Evolution which opens on Saturday in Düsseldorf.

“Adhesive tapes are already extremely loose and hanging by a thread,” Meyer-Büser said. “If you were to flip it now, gravity would pull it in another direction. And that’s now part of the story of the work.

• This article was modified on October 28, 2022 because an earlier version had misspelled Susanne Meyer-Büser’s last name in several places. This has been corrected.

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