If You Only Have an Hour

Piet Mondrian. Broadway Boogie Woogie. 1942-43

513

Oil on canvas, 50 x 50" (127 x 127 cm). Given anonymously

Ann Temkin: This painting is titled Broadway Boogie-Woogie. It was made by the Dutch-born artist Piet Mondrian in 1942.

Here, the horizontal and vertical lines of the painting are actually composed of rectangles and squares of red, blue, yellow, and white and gray. And they're navigating you across the canvas much like streets would in a cityscape, or much like dancers would across a dance floor. You have a feeling here, too, of music, I think; you have a feeling of the way that a canvas, which is obviously an inanimate thing, could possibly feel as if it were animated.

This is strikingly different from the quite ascetic and sober earlier Mondrian. And it's quite a remarkable thing because Mondrian had come to New York during World War II, as an exile from Europe, had to begin a whole new life as an older man, and adapted to New York City with such enthusiasm and such alacrity. He developed a passionate enthusiasm for boogie-woogie, for American jazz. He also was a great dancer, loved going out and dancing to live bands at places around midtown Manhattan.

The title of the painting, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, is a nice collision of two delighted references to things that made Mondrian so enthusiastic about his new life in New York City: Broadway, a very busy, broad thoroughfare full of interesting stores, but also full of theaters representing the novelty and the liveliness of the American musical tradition, and boogie-woogie, the jazz music that Mondrian discovered here and loved so much. That combination of references in the title is really a tribute to New York City at that moment.

Oil on canvas, 50 x 50" (127 x 127 cm). Given anonymously
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