Like some latter-day Leonardo da Vinci, Georges Vantongerloo focused in his work on the relationship between the human body and the cosmos. In the art world there is much loose talk of achieving a synthesis between art and life, but Vantongerloo really meant it. As the champion of a new world in which his artistic philosophy was to be part of everyday life, he spent many hours in his studio wrestling with his ideas and misgivings and produced innumerable experimental works, many of which would have fitted on the palm of his hand. In early 2010 the Gemeentemuseum presents a major retrospective devoted to this Belgian jack-of-all-trades – an all-round artist who was not only a painter, sculptor and designer, but even an architectural project developer.
Vantongerloo’s participation in the De Stijl movement may have been short-lived, but his preoccupation with Piet Mondrian was permanent. Although Mondrian was known to work intuitively, Vantongerloo remained convinced that his compositions were based on a mathematical code. Through endless scribbled calculations, he sought in vain to crack it.
Vantongerloo’s fertile brain produced a constant flow not only of autonomous sculpture and paintings, but also of designs for coffee sets, furniture, airfields, bridges and other kinds of public infrastructure. As a utopian thinker, he fought for ‘his’ world, in which his abstract formal idiom was to be adopted throughout society and appear in whole areas of housing, complete with tram lines, streets, street lighting and street names. But, however inventive he may have been in his designs, Vantongerloo was not a civil engineer and his designs for public infrastructure were never executed, despite all the lobbying he did during his period in Paris.
Vantongerloo’s strength, but perhaps also his weakness, was the breadth of his oeuvre; it fanned out over every conceivable artistic discipline, preventing him from ever finally committing himself to any one major statement or success. He sacrificed himself to his artistic ideas but ultimately lacked what it took to achieve real success with any of them. Even so, Vantongerloo left a lasting mark on art history, both through his work on the De Stijl magazine and through his role in the avant-garde Parisian Abstraction-Création group of artists.
As one of the founding fathers of Geometric Abstraction and Constructivism, Vantongerloo deserves to be remembered more than he has been. For this reason, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag has joined hands with the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg (Germany) to organise this exhibition on Vantongerloo and related contemporaries, like Max Bill and Piet Mondrian. It is, however, an exhibition organised in defiance of a ban, since Vantongerloo wrote in his will that no exhibition of his work should ever be held in the Netherlands.