‘The Sistine Chapel of Abstract Art’: Theo van Doesburg Rarity Will be at TEFAF 2020

Interior shot of Strasbourg Ciné Bal de l’Aubette, Courtesy of Claude Truong-Ngoc


Big, splashy art fairs have a relatively short heritage in America—brought on by the increasing need for everything cultural to be corporate sponsored and celebrity approved; but there is a longer history and greater sense of seriousness about them in Europe. And after the original Art Basel, in the Swiss city of the same name (it turns 50 this year), Maastricht’s TEFAF—The European Fine Art Fair—founded in 1988, is the Continent’s oldest and biggest.

One of the absolute highlights of the latter this year (March 7 – 15) will be the Galerie Gmurzynska booth—#404—representing the namesake Zurich gallery. Indeed, for those with an appreciation for first wave modernist style, Theo van Doesburg‘s color designs for the legendary Café de l’Aubette in Strasbourg will be on exhibit for the first time ever. Dramatically referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Abstract Art” by Musée de Strasbourg founder Hans Haug, it epitomized the concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk,’ or total work of art, which was the veritable philosophical manifesto of De Stiji, the aesthetic movement co-founded by van Doesburg and fellow Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.


Theo van Doesburg at the Bureau des travaux de l’Aubette, Place Kléber, Strasbourg


De Stijl, which translates pithily to “the style,” was one of the most influential movements of the 20th Century, and continues to show up on fashion runways and echo through contemporary interior design. The Café de l’Aubette Color Design is also a peek into van Doesburg’s theory of Elementarism, which he explained was, “based on the neutralization of positive and negative directions by the diagonal and, as far as color is concerned, by the dissonant.” (Right, it sounds like he was prophesying Sonic Youth.)

The cafe itself was restored to its original splendor in 2006—so dedicated modernists unable to be in attendance at TEFAF should consider a visit to Strasbourg. But for those planning to be in Maastricht next week, this will certainly be an unforgettable highlight.

The Theo van Doesburg Color Design exhibit will run the length of the fair, which takes place from March 7-15.


Theo Van Doesburg, Color design for ceiling and three walls
for the Café de l’Aubette Ciné-dancing wall painting in Strasbourg, 1926-1927
gouache on paperboard, 43 x 74.5 cm (16.93 x 29.33 inches), Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska
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