Magazine article Artforum International

Constant: Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia

Magazine article Artforum International

Constant: Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia

Article excerpt

Constant

MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA

New Babylon, the interdisciplinary project created by the Dutch artist Constant between 1956 and 1974, remains one of the most singular, ambitious, and self-critical architectural visions to come out of the cultural ferment of the period: a liberatory vision pursued in the form of tabletop models, architectural renderings, films, collages, written descriptions--even paintings, despite his avowed rejection of painting at the time. Constant's idea was to transform the world into one global, interconnected city characterized by continual migration and spontaneous play. Strategically opposed to the rational measures of postwar reconstruction, New Babylon simultaneously conveys the inherent dangers of realizing such a dream. "Constant: New Babylon," which will travel to the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in the Netherlands in May, did not shy away from the paradoxes inherent in such a project, but illuminated its productive multiplicity through a detailed examination of the work's trajectory.

The exhibition, curated by Laura Stamps and Doede Hardeman, presented New Babylon within the larger context of Constant's evolution from the Cobra movement (1948-51) to his return to painting starting in 1969 and his disillusioned abandonment of the New Babylon project in 1974. During the Cobra period, his groundbreaking paintings of symbolic violence and confrontation reconfigured the political insights of Picasso's Guernica, 1937, currently on view in the museum's permanent collection. Around 1952, however, Constant turned to the very geometric-abstract art that Cobra had critiqued. Expertly installed, the exhibition revealed hitherto unrecognized continuities that span such apparent contradictions, illuminating the full range of the experiments that he designed to both reenvision and reshape everyday life.

The exhibition meticulously reconstructed for the first time two Dutch museum installations, Een ruimte in kleur (A Space in Color), produced in 1952 with architect Aldo van Eyck and the artist and poet Lucebert, and Deurenlabyrinth (Labyrinth of Doors), which concluded the final exhibition of New Babylon in 1974. The vivid purple and blue wal Is and ceiling of the 1952 installation allowed viewers to imaginatively enter into the unorthodox ambiances proposed in the rest of the exhibition. …

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