Innovation in Painting and Architecture:
Will the backwardness of the masses
make perfect life impossible even in the remote future?
This is of no importance to evolution, which continues regardless,
and with evolution alone we must reckon.
(Mondriaan, De Stijl V, 3, 1922, 44) 1
The staging of a retrospective exhibition on De Stijl at the American Walker Art Center and various museums in the Netherlands in 1982 established the place of this movement as one of the keys to modernism. According to Mildred Friedman, then-Design Curator of the Walker Art Center, writing fifty years after the publication of the last issue of the journal of the same name, the De Stijl movement was a
focus for wide-ranging invention in painting, architecture, furniture and graphic design.2
This observation is somewhat problematic, however, because anyone who encounters such a statement in an art history handbook would be inclined to dismiss it as rhetorical. In fact, De Stijl is not as pivotal as Friedman suggests, unless modernism is interpreted as broadly as the present-day inflation of this term allows, or unless one limits oneself to reading monographs on only this movement or one of its protagonists. Dutch art historian Hans Jaffé, for example, in keeping with the movement itself, characterized De Stijl at the time as a signpost, a beacon, a standard for change in the history of mankind, which was forever moving toward perfection. 3
Such an appraisal of De Stijl as a standard for art or even mankind is rather exaggerated for a movement that consisted of a loosely organized and mercurial group of artists, which existed only on paper and was kept together by a thin little journal with a one-man editorial staff that appeared with decreasing frequency and was written mostly in Dutch. Furthermore, the number of distributed copies of the journal, titled De Stijl, never exceeded a few hundred,