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.
When assembling an exhibition, in addition to selecting objects from their museum’s own collection, curators often borrow objects from other museums and private collections. Each year Het Nieuwe Instituut lends hundreds of objects to other museums.
To celebrate the De Stijl centenary in 2017, museums across the globe presented exhibitions with works by artists and architects who belonged to this movement. Het Nieuwe Instituut received a large number of loan requests for works related to De Stijl. There was an especially high demand for sketches, drawings and models by Theo van Doesburg, one of the founders of De Stijl. The most substantial group of loans was to the exhibition Architecture and Interiors: The Desire for Style, a co-production by the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and Het Nieuwe Instituut, about the origins of De Stijl.
Loans are of great importance for Het Nieuwe Instituut. They provide opportunities to present works that are rarely shown, and they make the collection available to a larger audience. It is also interesting to show works from the collection in a new context, thus creating new narratives. But there is also a downside to loans. The majority of the collection of Het Nieuwe Instituut consists of drawings, which were not made to be preserved for posterity. It is an archive, not a museum collection with artworks intended to be preserved for generations. The works by Theo van Doesburg, for example, were made as working drawings and presentation materials. The traces of the working process are still visible in the drawings: they are mostly on fragile, nondurable materials and were simply stuck to the wall with drawing pins during presentations.
Because of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s two-pronged remit – to preserve the collection but also make it accessible – there is always conflict between the need to care for the objects and the desire to present them to the public. Exposure to light, humidity and fluctuating temperatures has consequences for the condition of the objects. Light causes drawings to fade, humidity can create bulging in the paper, and temperature fluctuations can affect pigments. Each of these elements can accelerate the natural deterioration of the materials. It is the task of the registrar to monitor the condition of the work carefully, to minimise the exposure to risks, to each agreements with the borrowing institutions, and, where necessary, to accompany the works physically to the exhibiting venue. Numerous measures are put in place to ensure that risks are kept to a minimum, but they cannot be avoided completely.
Het Nieuwe Instituut has decided to cease lending works by Theo van Doesburg for the time being. The number of hours that works have been exposed to light and air must now be compensated for by a period in storage, under ideal atmospheric conditions. Research will be required to determine which conservation measures are required and whether some objects require restoration work.
The one-off subsidy from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in March of this year will make it possible to restore these and other works in the coming years, so that they can once again be made accessible to the public in the future.