Broadway Boogie Woogie

Piet Mondrian
Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
©2010 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Virginia USA

Whereas Piet Mondrian’s early works feature the systematic development of lines and color fields, in his later paintings he abandoned black lines for colored stripes, whose further dissolution into smaller squares was prefigured in the work Broadway Boogie Woogie. Mondrian included larger color fields in this painting too, though without entirely bordering them with lines. The painting awakens associations with an aerial view of Manhattan’s grid street network, flashing advertising lights, and pulsating traffic. But Mondrian was also elaborating his encounter with boogie-woogie music, which he had discovered upon moving to New York. He writes: True boogie-woogie I conceive as homogeneous with my intention in painting: destruction of melody, which is the equivalent of destruction of natural appearance, and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means – dynamic rhythm.[1]

The eye wanders across the surface of the painting, instinctively searching for recurring patterns—an act that seems to set the small color fields into motion. Static lingering is prevented, which, according to Mondrian, is indeed one of the functions of rhythm: Whether obscured or clarified, rhythm expresses dynamic movement through the continual opposition of the elements of composition …. In all art, the function of rhythm is to prevent static expression by means of dynamic action.[2] Rhythm was no less important for Mondrian than for Paul Klee. The difference was that he developed his ideas in dialogue not with classical but with contemporary popular music.