An explanation of Piet Mondrian's work by Michael Sciam

The modern project

Neoplasticism: An open door to our future

A new society

Modernism has manifested itself not only in the two-dimensional space of the painting but also in the great efforts of architects to rethink the cities. The ideas of Gropius and Le Corbusier presuppose a new society. In speaking of phenomena as complex as cities, it is necessary to take variety as a common factor, to translate individual imagination, freedom of enterprise, and plurality of intent in terms of architecture and urban planning without losing sight of the overall context. The question of the relationship between change and constancy, multiplicity and unity, then becomes an economic, political, and social issue, and everything thus becomes much more complicated.

Post-mortem architecture

The continuum evoked by Mondrian, in which each thing loses its particular nature to become part of a context of relations, presupposes a more highly evolved social and economic system than we have at present.
So-called postmodern architecture has instead clumsily reintroduced symmetry, restoring the central role of the object and thereby preventing a dynamic vision of greater breadth. What a friend in Berlin used to call “post-mortem” architecture has in fact proved to be the plastic expression of a conception that was only apparently innovative but actually conservative all the way through, developed by potentates intent on maintaining their positions and largely unconcerned with the quality of people’s lives in the future. Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building on Madison Avenue in Manhattan is a clear example of this.
It may not be long before others discover new pathways of greater present-day relevance in line with the true ideals of socialism, a term largely misused in the course of the 20th century.

The search for new values

There is a great deal of talk today about the rediscovery of values. I believe that the search for values, about which there is so much talk nowadays, is also a question of space: plastic space capable of generating a new mental space. We shall only find more certain and lasting values by adopting a dynamic vision capable of harmonizing with a reality that changes. A constant relationship cannot in fact be established between subject and object, that is between inner and outer realities if they are not traveling at much the same speed. The choice is ours: whether to adopt a dynamic vision or opt for a return to the slower rhythms of life of the agricultural society and the more certain, tried and tested values associated with that type of social organization.

Strong thought

So-called realistic or figurative painting would regain its veracity if we again perceived our surrounding reality at the speed of the human being on foot or horseback. Everything changed much more slowly in social life back when the world appeared to be almost immobile, when people thought that it was the sun that revolved around the earth and that reality was something permanently given on which they could in any case exert no influence. Realistic or figurative painting can no longer be “true” today because it is we ourselves with our ideas and actions that alter its underlying assumptions every day. Here lies what I regard as one of the fundamental contradictions of our time, namely the fact that we live in accordance with dynamic rhythms that our common sense still represents through a static and hence obsolete space. This is also one of the factors leading to the general crisis of values and in particular of “strong thought”, not to mention the whole of the recent parade of Neo, Trans, and Post trends in the visual arts, all of which basically mean an incapacity to formulate an effective vision of present-day reality.

The complexities of social life

A utopian proposal

The modern project foreshadowed by some masters of abstract-concrete art was something more than a fashion, which is what most of our contemporary visual “culture” unfortunately boils down to. In the case of Mondrian, the question was not only aesthetic but also ethical, social, and above all spiritual at the same time. To tell the truth, a look around leads us to suspect not only that modernism has not been superseded but also that it has not even begun in its deeper sense.