Absolute immersion and devotion to a single occupation is rare in our modern age. Luckily, the rare, flailing student who rises each morning to sight of four bedroom walls plastered with exam notes is an exception. This is, perhaps, the reason that when reflecting on Piet Mondrian’s complete dedication to his art, it is almost incomprehensible and yet so impressive. Throughout much of his life, the Dutch painter was utterly dedicated to his art. He lead the development of abstract art, specifically neo-plasticism, and lived, worked and socialised in his various ateliers.
Tate Liverpool’s Mondrian and his Studios exhibition explores this extraordinary world in a unique and thoroughly well thought out exhibition. On show is the largest number of neo-plastic paintings ever assembled in the UK and more intriguingly, the exhibition is likely the first to explore the perpetual aspect of Mondrian’s immersion in such detail. Rather than further treading the well-worn ground of observing the processes by which Mondrian reached his classic moment of abstraction, the exhibition tracks his movements from Paris, to London and finally New York where he spent the final few years of his life. In doing so, it delivers a chronological exposure as well as highlighting his fixation with the relationship between his artworks and the space surrounding them.
Rather aptly, and undoubtedly purposely, immersion is a major feature of the exhibition. An ambitious reconstruction of Mondrian’s Parisian studio at 26 rue du Depart allows visitors to imagine what it may have been like to visit the artist at his ‘crucial meeting point of the Paris avant-garde’. An additional digital recreation of Mondrian’s small London atelier also gives us a better opportunity to attempt to accurately understand Mondrian’s mindset and thought processes from inside his intimate workspace. Both prove to be not only intriguing work spaces but also genuine creations in themselves independent of their parts and this is something it is vital to understand.
The genuine dialogue between Mondrian’s space and his work and between painting and architecture is well exposed for those unfamiliar with the De Stijl co-founder. This is vital to unlocking the door to appreciating Mondrian; understanding is a key theme throughout. Those with little experience of Mondrian often question the difficulty of his achievements and in exposing this particular aspect of his work, eyes will undoubtedly be opened. The array of works on show make for a wholesome experience and the visitor is able to really understand the passion Mondrian possessed for his work. So much so, as it is pointed out, that developing his craft living in squalid conditions for such long periods was what, it might be suggested, ultimately ended his life in New York in 1944.
Mondrian and his Studios runs at Tate Liverpool until 5 October.
Tips: Book an advance train here from Leeds to Liverpool in under 90 minutes for £5.30 each way with a 16-25 railcard. Book tickets for the exhibition here.