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Victory Boogie Woogie

Sunday, May 1, 2011

“Victory Boogie Woogie” is the last painting by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. It was made but not completed in 1944, the year that Mondrian died. Even though it is unfinished, the disposition of the image is still quite clear. It is a continuation of his last finished painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, which it has a distinct resemblance to, even though the canvas of the latter is a simple square, while “Victory Boogie Woogie” is lozenge-shaped and by this deals with space very differently. Still, both paintings consist of multicolored, different sized paint-, plastic- and paper squares, arranged in an asymmetrical pattern in horizontal and vertical lines on the canvas. They seem to be partly interwoven, or layered, which suggests an almost textile-ish feel of the surface, probably partly due to its unfinished state. For both painting Mondrian used only the primary colors and shades of grey. The yellow is much more dominant in the Broadway painting while blue and red are more prominent in the other one.

While it is implied, that “Broadway Boogie Woogie” represents the sparkling lights on Broadway, as well as the streets of New York, filled with the yellow taxis, “Victory” stands for the (New York) city life in general. The lights, the traffic, one might even see the grid of the cities map with its crowded streets and huge buildings. It is strange, since the painting is obviously not trying to portray the scenery realistically; it is more a capturing of an ambiance, the kind of mood you experience when you’re in the middle of a big city. Very intense and maybe even a little overwhelming, a lot of sounds, smells, images, multicolored stuff and people, vehicles etc. surrounding you like a cloud of a heavy metropolis-esque odor, making you a little bit dizzy and leaving you in a state of inexplicable physical fatigue. Especially in comparison with the Broadway Boogie Woogie it feels very crowded, maybe also connected to the shift of the canvas, since this way the squares don’t run parallel to the borders of the canvas.

The fading out of the squares towards the border of the “Victory” painting might be an indication for the non-finishedness, or just a contrast to the filled and almost hectic center. And really, the painting evokes a state of slight confusion, reminds of speed, circulation, movement in general. That is why it fits it’s title (which was not given by Mondrian himself, since he was already dead) quite perfectly, the boogie woogie, a subcategory of blues that came up and was popular in the 30’s and 40’s of the last century, was a piano based dance music, which was very up-beat and fast. Also a characteristic attribute is the frequently repeated leitmotiv, which is perfectly illustrated by the recurrence of the same colors and same shape all over the canvas.

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This seems to be a bit dreary, it actually is exactly that to me, but I imagine that you can get pretty excited about it when you have the tendency to a passion for Mondrian, I just can’t really call myself a groupie. Yet I do admire the careful arrangement of colors and sizes, this is the most interesting part for me, not the connection to the city or explicitly New York, though I find it curious how Mondrian tries to capture it’s spirit in a completely abstract way. This might be an attempt to find a symbol for the city, valid not for the individual but in the “Universal Reality”. I think this is very nice, you do not have to see a  cab in every yellow square to feel the vibe that enfolds throughout the image. Mondrian sure knew what he was doing, everything is arranged and composed so pefectly that it feels like Mondrian in controlling the motion of our eyes with his Boogie Woogie Paintings. Concluding I would say that, because of my personal taste, I don’t think it’s a painting in front of which I would choose to contemplate a long period of time. But I consider it very interesting and important, since it manages well to transport the artists position towards the city. What is left is the strong impression that Mondrian was immensely infatuated with being infatuated with the Big Apple.

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