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Dutch Gemeentemuseum purchases 2 key works by Constant Nieuwenhuys
Constant Nieuwenhuys, Diorama III, 1962. (New Babylon, Collectie Gemeentemuseum Den Haag).

THE HAGUE.- The Gemeentemuseum The Hague has purchased two dioramas by artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. Constant produced only three such works, and two are now part of the largest collection of New Babylon which is in the possession of the Dutch Gemeentemuseum The Hague. Although the reputation of the Gemeentemuseum rests largely on its possession of the world’s greatest collection of Mondrians, it also has a New Babylon collection including 19 maquettes and 72 drawings. This makes the museum the proud possessor of almost the whole of Constant’s New Babylon project, a massive work that continues to inspire architects and artists worldwide.

With the rise of mega-cities, the ecological crisis, the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and ever more wars, the world is experiencing rapid and radical change. Populations are left destabilised and groping for new values. Politicians and administrators are desperately seeking to envisage a new world order. A first move in that direction was made in the aftermath of the Second World War, when Constant developed his ideas for a new world in which people would no longer need to work and cities would function as networks. For almost twenty years on end, he laboured to produce maquettes, ground plans, paintings, drawings and films outlining this new society. “I want to challenge the imagination of those who will have to prepare the construction of the future world.”

I am not a designer, but a provocateur
New Babylon is a world in which extensive automation has eliminated the need for people to work; instead, they lead a continuously nomadic and creative life. Some of Constant’s inspiration for this ‘homo ludens’ (man at play) came from his observation of gypsies in the Italian town of Alba, for which he produced a ‘Design for a gypsy encampment’ in 1956. Constant has since become internationally renowned for New Babylon and his other urban development designs. His work inspires both contemporary artists and architects like Rem Koolhaas. Constant himself feared the over-literal application of his ideas, saying that “New Babylon is not a model that should be imitated, but rather an illustration of a way of life in a hypothesized society”. He stressed, “I am not a designer, but a provocateur.”

Fantasising about a new world
It is in this light that the museum’s two new acquisitions, Diorama II and Diorama III, fill a vital gap in its New Babylon collection. The dioramas are even more effective than the maquettes in terms of stimulating the viewer’s imagination. Thanks to their abstract nature and use of mirrors, the viewer is engulfed in their labyrinthine environment and feels for a moment as if he is actually a ‘New Babylonian’. White and equipped with mirrors, Diorama II represents New Babylon by day, whereas Diorama III, without mirrors and painted silver-grey, evokes the sensation of wandering through New Babylon by night.

Dioramas to remain in the Netherlands
Director Benno Tempel is glad to have been able to add these key works to the Gemeentemuseum’s already unique New Babylon collection: “The Gemeentemuseum received the two works on loan from Constant himself. After his death, the Fondation Constant extended the loan agreement, but there was steadily increasing foreign interest in buying the dioramas. Thanks to financial support from 2 Dutch funds, as well as our good relations with the Fondation Constant, we have now been able to save the dioramas for the nation.”

Major Constant exhibition at Reina Sofia and the Gemeentemuseum
The Gemeentemuseum is raising its already established international profile as the world’s leading knowledge centre regarding New Babylon. The museum is partnering the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia on the organization of a major exhibition on New Babylon, to be held in Madrid in October 2015. In the summer of 2016, part of that exhibition will come to the Gemeentemuseum, where it will combine with shows at 2 other Dutch museums to form a nationwide retrospective of Constant’s work. The Gemeentemuseum is also engaged in research concerning the relationship between Constant’s New Babylon and the De Stijl movement.

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