Chris Beekman, De Stijl Defector
8 Apr - 17 Sep 2017

Presentation of the oeuvre of De Stijl artist Chris Beekman, one of the most politically active artists affiliated with this movement. The oeuvre of this forgotten De Stijl artist is presented for the first time, featuring around 80 artworks from the holdings of the Stedelijk Museum, Museum Kröller Müller and the Amsterdam Museum.

Chris Beekman, Compositie, 1920, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Chris Beekman, Compositie, 1920, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Painter and communist Chris Beekman (1887-1964) was friends with left-wing radicals like Bart van der Leck, Peter Alma and Robert van ’t Hoff. The works he produced during the early years of De Stijl show a liberal use of geometric shape and colour. However, Beekman later rejected the group’s purely idealistic ethos and what he saw as the movement’s lack of concrete social engagement. The world was in turmoil, and needed an art that everyone could understand. In the early 1920s, he abandoned abstraction in favour of figurative work of a more political nature. The exhibition clearly traces Beekman’s break with De Stijl: as Mondrian paints his most ethereal black and white work, a disillusioned Beekman sets out to create an art for the common people. With this, he forms a trait-d'union between De Stijl and the Russian Revolution: many Russian artists, including Malevich, also returned to figuration.

In addition to highlighting Beekman’s work from immediately before, during and after the De Stijl period, the presentation also explores the immediate context within which he worked. Brought into focus are links with Bart van der Leck and Piet Mondrian, with whom he became acquainted in Laren, as well as work by Jacob Bendien, Johan van Hell and Ferdinand Erfmann, and unusual early abstract work by Carel Willink.
An epilogue will be added to the exhibition at the end of May 2017, revealing that Beekman sent issues of De Stijl, with photos of abstract work and De Stijl architecture, to Malevich. Research suggests that a staircase design by Van ’t Hoff is likely to have influenced the development of the last phase of Malevich’ Suprematism: the Architektons.

international symposium: The Many Lives of the Russian Avant-garde

On 2 and 3 June 2017, the Stedelijk Museum and the Khardzhiev Stichting will jointly host an international symposium: The Many Lives of the Russian Avant-garde – Symposium in honour of Nikolai Khardzhiev, scholar and collector (1903-1996). Participants include leading scholars who will discuss the Russian avant-garde as a multi-disciplinary enterprise encompassing art, literature, politics and philosophy.

2017: 100 years of De Stijl

2017 marks a hundred years since the founding of De Stijl, a legendary group of artists and architects that revolved around Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian and Gerrit Rietveld. Museums throughout the Netherlands will be celebrating this special year. In a series of three presentations throughout 2017, the Stedelijk will focus on unexpected sides of De Stijl, such as an exhibit highlighting the work of De Stijl defector Chris Beekman. The Stedelijk also pays attention to connections with the Russian Revolution, which also occurred in 1917.

The exhibitions marking 100 Years of De Stijl are part of the Stedelijk’s new, longer-term research project. This initiative centres on approaching, interpreting and presenting the museum collection in an experimental way, with no distinction between art and design. The project also examines the rich history of the institute, and the archives.