CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


WHITE, Michael
De Stijl and the Cultural Canon of the Netherlands: Gerrit Rietveld’s Red-Blue (and White?) Chair

Session 21 Connecting Art Histories and World Art

University of York


The premise of this paper is to compare the almost simultaneous acquisition in 2010-11 of examples of an iconic (and now also canonical) piece of twentieth-century design by two very different organisations, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. It is striking to note, however, that not only is the narrative into which the chair is placed distinctly different, its very appearance is radically dissimilarin each location. The China Academy of Art has acquired a characteristic Red-Blue Chair, one which is painted the recognisable colours of the object’s name, while the example purchased by the Rijksmuseum is an unusual monochrome white. The immediate implication is that the chair may have alternative identities in and outside of the country of its origin. This paper will outline how the chair has acquired some of those identities before going on to argue that these seeming differences mask a common approach to the object, one which has positioned it primarily as a work of fine art rather than design. In turn, the interpretation of the chair as an artwork has been crucial to its becoming canonical and the paper will conclude by the significance of this interpretation to the post-global canon.


WHITE, Michael

Michael White is a professor of History of Art at the University of York, UK. His research has focussed primarily on the European avant-Gardes of the early twentieth century. He is the author of De Stijl and Dutch Modernism (MUP 2003) and Generation Dada: The Berlin avant-Garde and the First World War (Yale UP, 2013), co-author of The Story of De Stijl (Ludion, 2011) and co-editor of Virgin Microbe: Essays on Dada (Northwestern UP, 2013), and has published many articles on subjects such as Piet Mondrian, Hans Richter, Kurt Schwitters and the Bauhaus. He was consultant curator of the 2010 Tate Modern exhibition Theo van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde and co-curator of the 2014 Tate Liverpool exhibition Mondrian and his Studios.