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Exhibition shows, for the first time, a forgotten member of De Stijl that returned to Realism
Chris Beekman, Halte stoomtram, 1918, coll. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

AMSTERDAM.- The Stedelijk Museum presents the forgotten De Stijl artist Chris Beekman (The Hague 1887-Blaricum 1964). As an anarchist, he was one of the most politically active artists affiliated with the movement. Beekman became involved in the De Stijl in 1917, and broke away from the group in 1919, although continued to paint abstract work until 1922. This exhibition is the first to spotlight Beekman’s oeuvre, with a selection of around 80 pieces from the collections of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum Kröller Müller and the Amsterdam Museum. As well as his work created directly before, during and after the De Stijl period, the exhibit also sheds light on the immediate context within which Beekman operated, and his links with artists such as Bart van der Leck, whom he befriended in Laren. Also on view is work by Piet Mondrian, Jacob Bendien, Ferdinand Erfmann and Johan van Hell, and early, surprisingly abstract paintings by the young Carel Willink.

The Stijl Defector
After playing an active role within De Stijl for some time, he fell out with De Stijl figurehead Theo van Doesburg in 1919. Their disagreement follows a political gesture: an artists’ petition submitted to the Dutch government pleading to reinstate communications with fellow Russian artists. Van Doesburg accuses Beekman of attempting to politicise De Stijl, which leads to a parting of the ways. Initially, Beekman continues to create abstract works but ultimately concludes that abstraction is a dead end: the revolution is better served by figurative art with a clearly articulated political message. As a politically-committed painter, Beekman’s change of direction reflects the neo-realistic art of his day. It did, however, place him at the margin of De Stijl. Opinions of Beekman’s work have always been shaped by his political convictions: his radical left-wing sympathisers always considered his abstract work a youthful formalist indiscretion, while art historians felt it lacked the required rigour.

In 1926, Beekman moves to Amsterdam. These are turbulent times, marked by the emergence of Fascism, the founding of the Dutch Communist Party and the crash of the stock exchange in 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. Chris Beekman was friends with left-wing radicals like Bart van der Leck, Peter Alma and Robert van ’t Hoff. During this time, left-wing artists focus on creating art that appeals to mass audiences. As an anarchist, Beekman sympathised with the social struggles of the labour movement. Beekman forever rejected abstraction, saying that: ‘You cannot live without people. You must remain connected with life, also artistically.’ This conviction led Beekman to adopt a realistic style to depict the unemployed of Amsterdam, and labourers marching through the streets. The tensions that were rife in the city are visible in the workers’ faces.

This exhibition adds Beekman to the canon of De Stijl and provides a window onto the tumultuous period between the two world wars when debates on politics and art were conducted on a knife edge. Chris Beekman’s return to Realism is remarkable and also shows a parallel with Kazimir Malevich, who also turned back to figurative art after an abstract period.

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

2017: 100 Years of De Stijl
2017 marks the centenary of the De Stijl’s formation – 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. The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was the catalyst for the international breakthrough of De Stijl and holds a significant body of work created by the movement. The Stedelijk is devoting 2017 to presentations highlighting unexpected sides of De Stijl, such as an exhibit featuring the work of De Stijl defector Chris Beekman.

The exhibition Chris Beekman, De Stijl Defector, is the last exhibition curated for the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam by Bart Rutten.

The exhibitions celebrating 100 Years of De Stijl are part of the Stedelijk’s new, long-term research project. The programme takes an experimental approach to presenting, interpreting and exploring the collection, making no distinction between art and design. The presentations also draw upon the museum’s rich history, and the archives.

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