Off grid

Mondrian artwork displayed upside down for 75 years

Early photo of ‘New York City 1’ shows piece with its closely tied yellow, blue, and black stripes at the top, not bottom; will remain wrongly displayed so as not to damage it

Upside down: "New York City 1," Piet Mondrian. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Upside down: "New York City 1," Piet Mondrian. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

A piece of artwork by abstract Dutch artist Piet Mondrian has been displayed upside down for 75 years, an art historian said on Thursday.

“New York City 1,” created in 1941, is a grid-like mix of blue, yellow, red, and black adhesive tapes.

The work does not bear Mondrian’s signature, likely because he had not considered the piece finished.

A photograph of the piece in Mondrian’s studio, shortly after his death in 1944 shows the closely tied yellow, blue, and black stripes at the top — opposite to how it has been displayed since it first was shown to the public at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1945.

The piece has been hanging in the Mondrian exhibition at Germany’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K20 museum in Dusseldorf since 1980.

“The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” curator Susanne Meyer-Büser, told The Guardian newspaper, and asserted she is “100% certain the picture is the wrong way around.”

Furthermore, Meyer-Büser charges that Mondrian would have laced the strips of tape over one another from top to bottom — a method that would have been too challenging had he worked the other way.

However, the tapes are “extremely loose and hanging by a thread,” Meyer-Büser told The Guardian, therefore, the art piece will be displayed as it has been for the past 75 years, as flipping it around would ultimately damage it.

“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,” Meyer-Büser said.

It is unclear how the mistake was made in the first place.

Mondrian, born in the Netherlands, was one of the most acclaimed artists of the 20th century and co-founded the Dutch De Stijl (The Style) abstract art movement.

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