Next Sunday (December 6), as part of the current exhibition Theo van Doesburg And The International Avant-Garde: Constructing A New World at Leiden’s Stedelijk Museum in Lakenhal, music journalist Jan Vollaard will be investigating the influence of van Doesburg’s work on Barney Bubbles’ designs.
Jan, who has also written this feature about Reasons To Be Cheerful in Dutch daily paper NRC Handelsblad, will be hosting the talk and q&a from 2pm at the Scheltema complex, which is a two-minute walk from the museum at Marktsteeg 1 and Oude Singel.
The exhibition has been mounted in co-operation with London’s Tate Modern, where it will be housed from February 4 to May 10 next year as the UK’s first major show devoted to the Dutch artist who was central to the foundation of the De Stijl movement and magazine.
The city of Leiden is appropriate; this is where De Stijl was founded and also where van Doesburg established his short-lived art review Mécano in 1924. Here, as editor, he assumed the name I.K.Bonset, which some have claimed is an anagrammatic pun for the Dutch phrase “Ik ben sot” – “I am drunk” – or the phonetic joke “I’m crazy”. The pseudonymous Barney would surely have appreciated either. Van Doesburg was in fact born Christian Emil Marie Kupper.
It’s believed that van Doesburg used the Bonset name to distance his more rational work from the Dada-infused content of Mécano, which broke rules in favour of absurdity and spontaneity. The front cover of Mecano 3 was quoted for the sleeve for Nick Lowe’s 1978 single I Love the Sound Of Breaking Glass.
There are many other examples of Barney’s appreciation and reinterpretation of the work and practices of van Doesburg and his milieu.
As revealed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, a painting for Barney’s friend Diana Fawcett contains an axinometric projection similar to that created by the great modernist Gerrit Reitveld for the Schroder House in Utrecht.
Diana was instructed to hang the painting at a 45-degree tilt, reproducing the quadrant which recurs in van Doesburg’s work. Around this time it also appeared on sleeves for Blanket Of Secrecy and Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
Among Reitveld’s furniture at the Schroder House is a version of his Red Blue chair of 1917. This informed the “turbo” chair Barney designed for Jake Riviera in 1981.
“Van Doesburg believed that the boundaries between painting, architecture, photography and other disciplines should be abolished and become part of a single, compressed, modernist worldview,” writes Jan. “Bubbles endorsed those principles and combined his work in magazines and record companies, furniture design, painting, advertising work and directing (primitive) video clips.”
With the focus on van Doesburg’s influence on the international avant-garde, there are more than 300 works by 80 artists, including paintings, sculpture, scale-models, furniture, posters, films, typography and magazines to illustrate what Barney himself exemplified: versatility, tirelessness and the interweaving of various disciplines.