Mondrian arrived in New York in 1940, one of the many European artists who moved to the United States to escape World War II. He immediately fell in love with the city and with boogie-woogie music, to which he was introduced on his first evening in New York. Soon he began, as he said, to put a little boogie-woogie into his paintings.
Mondrian’s aesthetic doctrine of Neo-Plasticism restricted the painter to the most basic kinds of line—that is, to straight horizontals and verticals—and to a similarly limited color range, the primary triad of red, yellow, and blue plus white, black, and the grays in between. But Broadway Boogie Woogie omits black and breaks Mondrian’s once uniform bars of color into multicolored segments. Bouncing against each other, these tiny, blinking blocks of color create a vital and pulsing rhythm, an optical vibration that jumps from intersection to intersection like traffic on the streets of New York. At the same time, the picture is carefully calibrated, its colors interspersed with gray and white blocks.
Mondrian’s appreciation of boogie-woogie may have sprung partly from the fact that he saw its goals as analogous to his own: “destruction of melody which is the destruction of natural appearance; and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means— dynamic rhythm.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Mondrian, who had escaped to New York from Europe after the outbreak of World War II, delighted in the city’s architecture. He was also fascinated by American jazz, particularly boogie-woogie, finding its syncopated beat, irreverent approach to melody, and improvisational aesthetic akin to what he called, in his own work, the “destruction of natural appearance; and construction through continuous opposition of pure means—dynamic rhythm.” In this painting, his penultimate, Mondrian replaced the black grid that had long governed his canvases with predominantly yellow lines that intersect at points marked by squares of blue and red. These atomized bands of stuttering chromatic pulses, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.
Gallery label from 2011.