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Theo van Doesburg

One of my favourite artists is enjoying a new wave of appreciation. The 3 works by Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), which we offered from the collection for Expose! (see elsewhere on this site), have all been chosen by you for the top 50 and are now on display in our museum. Furthermore, late last year he was the focus of a wonderful and abundantly filled retrospective in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, which will be showing at the Tate Modern in London in the spring of 2010.
Van Doesburg remains a controversial artist due to his many faces. I am particularly fond of him because he adopted the everyday problem, how one learns to live with the ubiquitous and constant contradictions, as his artistic point of departure. His life and his work are a succession of paradoxes; in the history of visual art, he was one of the first to work with this theme. In his case that led to an inspiring and fairly unbiased oeuvre and to many friendships and animosities. He aimed to make life more bearable and exciting via the indirect route of art. Not only was he a painter, but also a writer, poet, architect, thinker, designer and typographer: he practiced every discipline that held his interest. He had a special bond with Tristan Tzara (1896-1963), the Rumanian-French writer with a predilection for chance, which, incidentally, also interested Van Doesburg. Tzara used chance as a device by which to make works of art that were more in keeping with real life. Both had an ambivalent view on the role of the artist: ideally the artist ought to be superfluous and art and life should become one, but at the same time they found the artist necessary, as a creative life is apparently impossible to achieve without an impulse from an outside individual.
Tzara was a Dadaist. He even invented the word Dada, and he did so, according to tradition, on February 8th 1916 at 6 o’clock in the evening. Dada stood for a mentality that was entirely at odds with the prevailing aesthetic order and that used heavy artillery in the struggle against it: by ridiculing, by displaying poor taste, through the use of vulgar language and images, through blasphemy and irrationality, by poking fun at old symbols, through demoralization and the tendency towards destruction and nihilism. Becoming acquainted with Dada and Tzara was a revelation for Van Doesburg, who had also developed a theory on destruction, but as a method by which to build something new and positive on the debris of the old art. Both artists sought to apply their talents in society without losing their integrity, but also without investing the artist with the aura of some sort of priest. I believe their views are still a meaningful element in the legacy of the classical avant-garde of 20th century modern art. So I am pleased with the renewed recognition given to this artist. In the Kröller-Müller Museum you can always see works by Van Doesburg and his friends and enemies and I hope you become inspired by them.

Evert van Straaten
March 2010

Photo: Tristan Tzara, Portrait of Theo van Doesburg as a cacao bean, 1923