From 4 October, two design drawings for Café Aubette from the archive of Theo van Doesburg will be shown in the exhibition Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. In February, the exhibition travels to Vienna, where two other designs for Aubette will be on display. The loan of these drawings has been made possible only after research and conservation as part of the Closer to Architecture programme.
Café Aubette was one of the most important architectural projects of the De Stijl movement. In 1926, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber enlisted Van Doesburg to refurbish the interior of the Aubette, an eighteenth-century, Neo-Classical building in the centre of Strasbourg. The aim was to create an innovative, modern nightlife complex, including a dance hall and cinema, inspired by large nightclubs in Berlin and Paris. Van Doesburg envisaged an integration of space, colour and movement, employing the same dynamic lines, coloured planes and modern materials for the walls, ceiling and floor.
Moratorium on loans
Since 2017 there has been a moratorium on the loan of works from the Van Doesburg archive because of the poor condition of many of the items. Van Doesburg’s archive is one of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s most important collections and items from it are regularly lent to exhibitions. It is of great important that the collection remains fully accessible and that the objects can be handled safely. To ensure the future welfare of the archive, it is being conserved, restored and digitised as part of the Closer to Architecture programme.
For the restoration of Van Doesburg’s archive, Het Nieuwe Instituut has worked closely with other institutions including the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). Het Nieuwe Instituut and the RCE worked together earlier on the restoration of Café Aubette in 2004-06. At that time, research was conducted into the colours used in the building itself. The RCE has recently investigated the exact use of colour in the design drawings. The four drawings to be lent to the Barbican Art Gallery were conserved as part of this research.
Colour specialist Mariël Polman (RCE and Polman Kleur & Architectuur) has carefully studied the colours in Van Doesburg’s design drawings and has translated them into modern paints by Sikkens and linoleum by Forbo. This is important because the exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery will contain a life-size reconstruction of part of Café Aubette.
The research into the pigments and binding agents used in the drawings was carried out by Luc Megens and Rika Pause (RCE). The results have been used for the conservation of the drawings in the Van Doesburg archive and also to gain information about the actual interior in Strasbourg.
Into the Night
The exhibition Into the Night explores the social and artistic role of nightclubs, cabarets and cafés from 1880 to the 1960s. These venues were breeding grounds for radical movements, where artists exchanged provocative ideas and introduced new forms of expression. Into the Night charts an alternative history of modern art, emphasising experimentation and highlighting the partnerships between artists, writers and musicians.
The exhibition is at the Barbican Art Gallery in London from 4 October 2019 to 19 January 2020 and at the Belvedere in Vienna from 14 February to 1 June 2020.
Closer to Architecture
Het Nieuwe Instituut manages an extensive and valuable collection of architecture and design archives. To enhance the consultability of the archive, the collection of architectural drawings, the photo collection and the Theo van Doesburg collection in particular, extensive restoration and conservation is required. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) invests 11 million euros over the coming six years in the visibility – i.e. the restoration and digitisation – of the architectural collection.
The Van Doesburg Archive: The Downside to Loans
2017 was the centenary of the founding of De Stijl, with numerous exhibitions in the Netherlands and abroad that featured works borrowed from the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut. Loans are important for the mobility of the collection, but they also pose risks to the condition of the objects. To ensure their optimum condition, for the time being works by Theo van Doesburg from the collection will no longer be loaned to other institutions.