Saturday, October 1, 2011

The eye of the beholder

"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel."
~ Piet Mondrian

A few weeks ago a shrine appeared on  in my neighborhood — one of those collections of toys, candles, photos and stuffed animals that spring up wherever someone has died suddenly or too young. 

The shrine sits on a corner outside a Filipino grocery store that's across the street from a busy Filipino church. On Sundays, while women, children and some of the men attend church services, five or ten older men normally gather by the grocery store to smoke and shoot the breeze. 

At first I didn't pay much attention to the shrine beyond wondering where the smoking men would stand on Sundays. Sidewalk tributes make me feel like a voyeur, a rubbernecker at a traffic accident, and this one was easy to avoid. But one day I passed within a few feet of it and realized this was not what it at first seemed: This is a shrine to the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. 

"Broadway Boogie Woogie"
Piet Mondrian (1942-43)
Mondrian, a founder of the stripped down, anti-romantic De Stijl movement, is known for his grid-based paintings of perpendicular lines in primary colors. He moved to New York in 1940 and created his celebrated "Broadway Boogie Woogie" here in the two years before his death at age 72 in 1944. So there was a New York connection...but what was up with the shrine? 

The corner the shrine sits on is one block away from MoMA PS1, an exhibition space for "emerging artists"...the sort of artists who might decide to create a shrine to a long-dead artist that simultaneously violates everything the artist stood for and pays tribute to his enduring influence. I should also mention that  Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie" is part of MoMA's permanent collection — check out a MoMA curator's audio-visual discussion of it here.

I don't know who created this — as far as I can see, it's unsigned — but it was put together with lavish attention to very odd details. For example, this section of the shrine notes the influence of Mondrian on L'Oreal hair products. 

Here you can see that while the candles stick to Mondrian's primary colors, the stuffed animals...not so much. 

Ultimately, I don't know what the shrine's creator thinks of Mondrian. Is this a critique of the severe De Stijl style or is the real target the schmaltzy sentimentality of sad little stuffed animals and signs professing love? As always, it's in the eye of the beholder.


  1. What a lovely tribute! Thank you for taking a look and taking some photos.

    I cut a Mondrian out of a magazine a while ago and cut it up further for use in bookmark collages. One rectangle ended up in a wood, with a cat on top.

  2. Hah! Sounds like an idea for the shrine's creator...or perhaps a special line of bookmarks-by-Stan.

  3. There is just such a line of bookmarks, Michele, though most of them are Mondrian-free! The aforementioned item I sent to a friend.

  4. Fascinating. I'm having a bit of trouble appreciating this anti-Mondrian, Mondrian shrine. While I enjoy the Mondrian/L'Oreal tie-in demonstration, much of the rest of this makes my teeth ache; it is not my kind of lovely. I wish I knew more of its what and why. Mysteries…

  5. It is no thing of beauty, that's for sure. I suspect its creator was probably going for irony. But as a curiosity, I thought it was interesting.

  6. Though I live in the Calvinistic land of Mondrian's birth and not too far from the old (now renovated) spa from where he'd composed several of his earlier paintings, I've had admittedly limited appreciation for the artist's tightly stroked and primary coloured works. Yet, you've written a great tribute with a most excellent eye to have stumbled upon this shrine and 'channel' your lovely critique. No doubt the humble artist would be proud!