Mondrian painting hung upside down for 77 years, says Düsseldorf curator

Mondrian painting hung upside down for 77 years, says Düsseldorf curator

The curator of Düsseldorf's new "Mondrian. Evolution" exhibition has discovered the Dutch artist’s New York City I abstract has been hanging the wrong way round for 77 years.

Mondrian painting hung upside down in Düsseldorf

A curator at the Kunstsammlung art gallery in Düsseldorf has discovered that a painting by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian has likely been displayed the wrong way round for 77 years. The 1941 artwork, New York City I, is made up of a series of interwoven red, yellow and blue tape lines on a white background, said to represent the New York skyline. 

Though it is not immediately obvious which way round the abstract painting should go, while she was putting together the exhibition, curator Susanne Meyer-Büser stumbled upon some clues suggesting that the picture may have long been hanging upside down. “The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” Meyer-Büser told The Guardian. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realised it was very obvious. I am 100 percent certain the picture is the wrong way around.”

A similar painting by Mondrian, who was born in The Netherlands in 1872, depicts another New York skyline. In the similarly named New York City, which hangs in the Paris Pompidou Centre, thickening lines gather in the painting's top corner. But it is a further observation made by Meyer-Büser that may provide the best proof of her theory. In a photograph of Mondrian’s studio, taken a few days after his death in 1944 and published in Town and Country magazine, New York City I can be seen pictured the other way round on an easel. 

Mistake is part of the Dutch artwork’s story

After the artist’s death his painting was displayed in New York City’s famous MoMA gallery. According to Meyer-Büser, MoMA curators also placed the picture the wrong way round. In 1980, it was transferred to the Düsseldorf Kunstsammlung where the error continued. 

Meyer-Büser is still unsure why this happened, “Was it a mistake when someone removed the work from its box? Was someone being sloppy when the work was in transit?”, she said. “It’s impossible to say.” One obvious explanation for the confusion is that the abstract work does not bear the artist’s signature, most likely because he did not consider it a finished piece when he died.

Despite her discovery, Meyer-Büser has decided that the work of neoplasticism in primary colours should continue to hang upside down, fearing that it could 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.”

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan



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