Piet Mondrian’s My New York City was recently discovered to have been hanging upside down on screen for the last 75 years, making for a cultural tale that was practically designed to go viral. Not surprisingly, some of those who keep it have read it as positive evidence of a “modern art” scam. How good is Mondrian, if there is no one else over the last three-quarters of a century can it be said that his paintings are not tilted to the right? That’s not a convincing critique, of course: My New York City dating back to 1941, by then Mondrian’s work had long since become hard even by abstract art standards, using only lines and blocks of color.
“The way the image hangs at the moment shows thickened colorful stripes at the bottom, suggesting a very simplified version of the skyline,” he wrote. GuardianPhilip Oltermann.
But “the same oil painting named and the same size, New York Citywhich is on display in Paris at the Center Pompidou, has bolded lines at the top,” and “studio photo of Mondrian, taken a few days after the artist’s death and published in the American lifestyle magazine City and country in June 1944, also shows the same picture sitting on a horse in the opposite way.” Those are just clues that Susanne Meyer-Büser, curator of the art collection from North Rhine-Westphalia, put together to diagnose the current mis-orientation.
Regardless, My New York City will remain as is. The eight-decade-old strip of painted tape that Mondrian used to assemble his black, yellow, red, and blue grille “is already very loose and hanging by a thread,” says Meyer-Büser. “If you turn it upside down now, gravity will pull it the other way.” An artist’s signature would usually be a distraction in a reverse work, but because he didn’t consider this particular work done, he never actually signed it—and if he had, of course, it would have hung properly in the first place. After all, it’s not hard to imagine having a rich aesthetic experience with the upside down Mondrian; can we say the same about, for example, upside down Last Supper?
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcaststs about the city, language and culture. The project includes a Substack newsletter Books about the City, book The Stateless City: Stroll through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.