Warhol Hosts Major Mondrian Exhibit

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We're lucky in Pittsburgh to have such a rare Dutch treat as "Piet (Mondrian) in Pittsburgh," an exhibition featuring 24 abstract paintings by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), which opened early this month and will be on view through August at The Andy Warhol Museum.

Who was Piet Mondrian, you might ask? For the uninitiated, just remember those funky bottles and jars of the L'Oreal Studio Line of hair care products introduced in the mid-1980s. You know the ones -- the pared down packages with spare designs of primary-colored squares and black lines.

Never mind that every fashion designer from Yves St. Laurent to Christian Louboutin borrowed the Dutch artist's iconic gridded composition of yellow, blue and red for everything from cocktail dresses to platform shoes.

But really, these may be too crass among cultural associations for one of the key figures in the early development of abstract art in the early 20th century. After all, Mondrian is widely recognized for having prominent influences on postwar art, architecture, design and printing. At the Warhol, we again find Mondrian in a modern-day tabernacle of pop culture -- a perfect fit in that regard.

Much thanks goes to Warhol director Tom Sokolowski, who brokered the deal. When the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam organized "Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms," the first major exhibition of Warhol's work in Europe in 40 years, they borrowed heavily from the Warhol Museum's collection. Why not soften the deal, Sokolowski thought, and throw a few Mondrian's our way.

The Stedelijk not only agreed, they talked to their friends in the Netherlands, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in The Hague and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, who sweetened the deal. Thus, we have pictures on loan that have never made it to these shores before, giving us a rare opportunity indeed to witness the artistic development of this important figure through two dozen representative examples.

"We were very pleased, because there's never been anything like this in Pittsburgh," Sokolowski says. "I think for people to come in and see the range of Mondrian's work -- well, so often when an artist's mature style is so monolithic, you don't really know how he got there. And this really is a wonderful exercise. It exemplifies all of the elements in Mondrian's career."

From his late works, which typify the Dutch artistic movement known as De Stijl of which he was a seminal figure, you wouldn't know that Mondrian started out as an expressionist, let alone a school teacher.

Born Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan in 1872 in Amersfoort, Holland, into a strict Calvinist family, Mondrian was introduced to art at a very early age. His father, also named Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, was a school teacher who also taught drawing, and his uncle, Fritz Mondriaan, was a painter, having studied under Willem Maris of The Hague School of artists.

From 1897 to 1909, Mondrian painted scenes of Dutch landscapes with mills, trees, farms and the Gien River near Amsterdam as subjects. …