A painting by abstract Dutch artist Piet Mondrian has been hanging upside down for seventy-seven years in various museums, says a curator at a German museum.
The curator of a new exhibition at the Kunstsammlung museum in Düsseldorf argued that New York City I, the 1941 artwork, has likely been displayed the wrong way around for more than seventy-five years.
Susan Meyer-Büser, who works for the Kunstsammlung art gallery in the city in North Rhine-Westphalia, is the curator who made the observation. There, a large retrospective of the avant-garde artist’s work went on display on Saturday, including the New York City I.
Curator discovers Mondrian painting hanging upside down
Meyer-Büser discovered that the painting had been presented to the public rather differently from how it was perhaps intended to be on show as she prepared for the exhibition.
She then told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, “In a photo from 1944, I saw that the canvas was the other way around on an easel. It intrigued me.”
The abstract painting is comprised of a series of interwoven red, yellow, red, and blue adhesive tape lines on a white background intersecting at right angles and is said to represent the New York skyline.
Mondrian painting inspired by New York City layout
Born in Amersfoort in 1872, Mondrian became one of the most influential figures in modern art in the 20th century and was a noted exponent of the 1920s abstract art movement known as “De Stijl.”
He moved to New York in 1940, where the skyscrapers and layout of the city would inspire his horizontal lines, but later died there in 1944.
After his death, his painting was displayed at the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1945. Yet, apparently, it was placed the wrong way around, according to Meyer-Büser.
It was then transferred to the Düsseldorf Kunstsammlung in 1980, where it has hung ever since at the art collection of the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and it was here the error continued.
Curator points out painting is hanging the wrong way around
Susanne realized the picture should be the other way around when she started researching the museum’s new show on the Dutch avant-garde artist earlier this year.
“The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” she told The Guardian. Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious. I am 100 [percent] certain the picture is the wrong way around.”
The picture suggests an extremely simplified version of a skyline from the multicolored lines thickening at the bottom according to the way it is currently hung.
While it was not immediately obvious which way it should go, Meyer-Büser believes she did stumble upon some clues while putting together the new exhibition.
Mondrian painting is not a finished piece
According to Meyer-Büser, part of the problem is that New York City I does not bear the artist’s signature unlike most of Mondrian’s earlier works. This is possibly because he did not consider it a finished piece when he died.
Meyer-Büser, still unsure why this happened, said, “Was it a mistake when someone removed the work from its box? Was someone being sloppy when the work was in transit? It’s impossible to say.”
The artist’s name was inscribed on the back of the frame by the administrator of the [artist’s estate] at the time of Mondrian’s death in 1944, which is probably why the artwork has been presented in that manner for decades.
Mondrian painting to remain upside down
Meyer-Büser has decided that the work of neoplasticism in primary colors should continue to hang upside down despite her discovery, fearing that it could disintegrate and otherwise be damaged.
“The adhesive tapes are already extremely loose and hanging by a thread,” Meyer-Büser told Reuters. “If you were to turn it upside down now, gravity would pull it into another direction. And it’s now part of the work’s story.”
She also explained that some of the yellow lines stop a few millimeters short of the bottom edge because it was most likely that Mondrian worked by starting his intricate layering with a line right at the top of the frame and then worked his way down.
Photo of Mondrian’s studio proves curator’s theory
Indicators suggesting an incorrect hanging are multifold and Meyer-Büser further provided the best proof of her theory from another observation.
A photograph of Mondrian’s studio published in American lifestyle magazine Town and Country in June 1944 just a few days following his death shows New York City I sitting on an easel the other way up.
New York City, the similarly named and same-sized oil painting by Mondrian on display in Paris at the Centre Pompidou, has the thickening of lines gathering at the top.
Considered one of the most important artworks of the 20th century, Victory Boogie Woogie is Mondrian’s most famous artwork.