running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

De Stijl Revisited

Monday, 1 February 2010

A colleague of mine is just back from London, where he was lucky enough to see 'Decode - Digital Design Sensations', a new media exhibition at the V&A. He's recommending I go down to see it as a staff development outing, and the timing couldn't be better because another exhibition worth seeing is opening at Tate Modern - 'Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde'.

This will be the first major exhibition in the UK devoted to De Stijl founder and avant-garde pioneer, Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), and follows in the footsteps of TM's recent Constructivist exhibition of works by Rodchenko and Popova.

Van Doesburg was the chief propagandist and spokesperson for the De Stijl movement, promoting it and connecting with the other strands of Modernism at the time - Neoplasticism, Dada, Bauhaus, and Constructivism. Piet Mondrian may have been the more famous member of De Stijl, but Van Doesburg's work was equally shocking, experimental and groundbreaking. Both these guys have had a huge influence on magazines, advertising, and interior design.

De Stijl Magazine Cover

Together with a number of other artists, they developed an international style of art and design based on a strict grid geometry of horizontals and verticals. This grid format is still the basis for print layout and web design, and is a central feature of design software such as InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and QuarkExpress.

Van Doesburg eventually embraced diagonals, which was too much for Mondrian, and the two fell out. Mondrian left the movement soon after.

Van Doesburg made a big contribution to typography. Together with El Lissitzky and Kurt Schwitters, he pioneered the use of sans serif type, and his geometric alphabet, using only perpendicular strokes and designed in 1919, was the precursor to the International Style that would appear in the late 1920's. This typeface has been resurrected in digital form as 'Architype Van Doesburg'.

Van Doesburg also publishing the seminal Dadaist magazine 'M├ęcano' under the heteronym of I.K. Bonset (possibly an anagram of "Ik ben zot", Dutch for "I am foolish"). Clearly he wasn't, but I would be to miss this exhibition, given the chance.

Van Doesburg and the International Avant Garde @ Tate Modern.
Van Doesburg- The Splintered Self.
Decode - Digital Design Sensations @ V&A.