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Relief no. 8, 1929

César Domela (1900-1992)

Copper, wood, paper, Plexiglas and paint 
99.5 x 99.5 x 8 cm 
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands. State acquisition, 1963 
© Stichting Kröller-Müller Museum 
© César Domela, VEGAP, Madrid 2020 

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Lines that meet to form a right angle, comprising areas of different colors and sizes and creating dynamic visual rhythms. This work by César Domela is the heir to the principles established by the Dutch aesthetic movement De Stijl. In addition to working as a sculptor, photographer and typographer, Domela became part of the De Stijl movement after meeting its founders, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg, in Paris in 1924. Works by Mondrian and van Doesburg are also on display as part of this exhibition. 

 

Domela’s work brings its own elements that differentiate the artist, in formal terms, from the other members of the group. The metal bars and the plexiglass sheet lend texture and volume to the work, while casting shadows and filtering the light. In turn, this brings to mind questions associated with concepts such as opacity and transparency. 

 

Although Cubism had already taken pioneering steps by incorporating fragments of everyday materials into the canvas through the technique of collage Domela explored this concept further. The artist evoked the tactile sensations of sculpture while projecting the bi-dimensionality of painting onto the canvas in three dimensions, thereby giving his work an architectural character. Moreover, over the course of his career, Domela broke with the rigorous use of straight lines. His work in dialogue with that of Pablo Picasso helps to identify the rationale for the two basic currents that dictated the flow of art in the 20th century, according to Barr’s diagram. In the catalogue for the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art the historian explains the concept in the following terms: 

 

At the risk of generalizing about the very recent past, it seems fairly clear that the geometric tradition in abstract art, just as illustrated by Nicholson's relief, is in the decline. Mondrian, the ascetic and steadfast champion of the rectangle, has been deserted by his most brilliant pupils, Helion and Domela, who have introduced in their recent work various impurities such as varied textures, irregularly curved lines and graded tones. Geometric forms are now the exception rather than the rule in Calder's mobiles. The non-geometric biomorphic forms of Arp and Miró and Moore are definitely in the ascendant. The formal tradition of Gauguin, Fauvism and Expressionism will probably dominate the tradition of Cezanne and Cubism for some time to come.