31 October 2022, by Olivia Logan

The curator of a new exhibition in Düsseldorf has discovered that one painting by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian has been hanging upside down for more than 75 years. 

Mondrian painting hanging wrong for decades, curator says

The curator, who works for the Kunstsammlung art gallery in the city in North Rhine-Westphalia, argued that the 1941 artwork, New York City I, has likely been displayed the wrong way around for more than three-quarters of a century.

The abstract painting by Mondrian, who was born in Amersfoort in 1872, is made up of a series of interwoven red, yellow and blue tape lines on a white background, said to represent the New York skyline, and so while it is not immediately obvious which way round it should go, curator Susanne Meyer-Büser did stumble upon some clues while putting together the new exhibition. 

“The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” Meyer-Büser told The Guardian. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realised it was very obvious. I am 100 percent certain the picture is the wrong way around.” In a similar painting by Mondrian, which hangs in the Paris Pompidou Centre and is also called New York City, thickening lines gather in the painting’s top corner.

But it is a further observation made by Meyer-Büser that may provide the best proof of her theory. In a photograph of Mondrian’s studio, taken a few days after his death in 1944 and published in Town and Country magazine, New York City I can be seen pictured the other way round on an easel. 

Dutch artwork tells a story

After Mondrian died, his painting was put on display at the famous MoMa gallery in New York City. According to Meyer-Büser, MoMA curators also placed the picture the wrong way round. In 1980, it was transferred to the Düsseldorf Kunstsammlung where the error continued. 

Meyer-Büser is still unsure why this happened: “Was it a mistake when someone removed the work from its box? Was someone being sloppy when the work was in transit?” she said. “It’s impossible to say.” One obvious explanation for the confusion is that the abstract work does not bear the artist’s signature, most likely because he did not consider it a finished piece when he died.

Despite her discovery, Meyer-Büser has decided that the work of neoplasticism in primary colours should continue to hang upside down, fearing that it could otherwise be damaged. “The adhesive tapes are already extremely loose and hanging by a thread,” Meyer-Büser told Reuters. “If you were to turn it upside down now, gravity would pull it into another direction. And it’s now part of the work’s story.”

This article originally appeared on IamExpat in Germany.

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