An upside down Mondrian

February 7, 2023


The curator of a new Piet Mondrian show made a startling discovery: its star painting had been hung upside down for 75 years. Few abstract artists were as rigorous about form and design as Mondrian, so the Dutch painter would likely not have been too pleased to learn of this news.

The composition of New York City 1 (1941) is a grid of yellow, blue, black, and red stripes. Experts now think that the canvas may have been flipped as early as 1945 when it was installed at MoMA, an error that may have resulted from how it was packaged and transported. The artist was unfortunately not around to correct the presumed mistake as he had died one year earlier in 1944. 

The faux pas was only discovered last year by curator Susanne Meyer-Büser as she was planning “Mondrian. Evolution,” a new exhibition dedicated to the modernist at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K20 in Düsseldorf, Germany.  

Selected as the highlight of the exhibition, the curator told a press conference, when she undertook research into the work’s past she found a photograph of it in the artist’s studio from 1944. The image showed the painting propped up on an easel in the opposite way than it has always been viewed. Still, despite this discovery, the painting is being exhibited the same way it has been since 1945 for fear of causing damage to the fragile work. 

Main image Piet Mondrian, New York City 1 (1941). Photo by Walter Klein, Düsseldorf