Room 6: New York
The German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 and the fall of Paris the following month deeply troubled Mondrian, and many of his artist neighbours had already left London, to escape imminent bombing. Mondrian, who had acquired an American visa, actively sought passage to the United States. His journey was aided by a young American artist and friend, Harry Holtzman. Once again, Mondrian arranged the shipment of finished and unfinished paintings and on 23 September 1940 departed from Liverpool for New York. Holtzman set him up in an apartment at 353 East 56th Street in Manhattan, which Mondrian refashioned in his now signature manner, such that the art dealer Sidney Janis could describe it a year later as ‘of a piece with his paintings’, its walls ‘broken by rectangular colour areas of cardboard – red, blue, yellow, unequal in size – placed to form a typical Mondrian arrangement’. Mondrian moved one further time, to 15 East 59th Street, in October 1943, which received the same treatment. Although he lived there for just a few months, following Mondrian’s death on 1 February 1944, Holtzman preserved the studio temporarily as a museum and memorial to him.
The studio in 15 East 59th Street is documented here through archival material, photographs, a film and the Wall Works. These compositions created by Mondrian in his last New York studio with coloured cards, some of which he painted, were found on the walls when he died. They were meticulously traced, transferred and remounted onto panels by Harry Holtzman in order for them to be preserved and exhibited. While the framing and selection of support materials were carefully chosen by Holtzman, the relationship between the colours of the original cards and the spacing between them document exactly what Mondrian composed on the walls. Along with the documentary photographs and the film by Harry Holtzman, these two compositions – part of a group of eight – preciously document Mondrian’s last studio in New York which has also been exactly reconstructed by the architect Jason Holtzman in several previous exhibitions.