To Us Liberty
2016

A world without borders or constraints. People freed from work and able to play and travel at will. Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920 – 2005) expressed his ideas for a new world in one of the largest and most visionary art projects in post-war history. New Babylon remains even now – and perhaps more than ever in the society of today – a source of inspiration for many people. The vast majority of the works associated with the project are in the hands of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and, working in close cooperation with Fondation Constant, the museum has carried out extensive research on them. The result is this summer’s show at the museum: one of the largest exhibitions ever held about this intriguing project, which forms a key part of Constant’s oeuvre.

Constant Nieuwenhuys (or Constant for short) was a leading member of the Cobra group but is equally famous for his intriguing New Babylon project, on which he laboured for almost twenty years. He witnessed the reconstruction of Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and he saw how, by the 1950s, increasing automation was changing society. He revealed himself as a true visionary, producing architectural models, constructions, maps, paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints, films, texts, lectures and temporary ‘environments’ to suggest to the public what their world might in future become. The exhibition will look not only at New Babylon itself, but also at the aspects of Constant’s oeuvre that foreshadow it.

Liberty

Constant believed that, by liberating people from the imperative of work, the society of the future would produce a ‘homo ludens’ (‘man at play’), free to exercise personal creativity and to travel at will. Above the existing cities, new environments would be created where everyone would be free to move around as they wished. But the form of New Babylon remained fluid; Constant was merely suggesting how the world of the future might be organized. It would be for its inhabitants to give creative shape to it, depending on their changing needs and desires. As he himself put it, “Everything should remain possible; everything should be able to happen. The environment will be shaped by the activities of life, not vice versa”.

Reconstructions

Following an exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in 1974, Constant left most of his New Babylon works at the museum where, he said at the time, “it [could] be safely stored away for future generations and more favourable times”. He was keen to clear space in his studio for a return to painting. Over subsequent decades, a substantial proportion of the works were acquired for the collection. Since then, parts of the project have regularly gone on show but New Babylon has never been displayed in all its diversity. The forthcoming exhibition will underline the more playful aspects of New Babylon by including several reconstructions of Constant’s ‘environments’. The Projects Gallery will accommodate a section of the Labyrinth of Doors, devised for the 1974 exhibition, and items on show in the main exhibition areas will include a reconstruction of Constant’s Ludic Stairs playscape, exhibited in 1968 at the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

 

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Publication and children’s book

The exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum will be accompanied by a detailed catalogue (published in Dutch by Hannibal and in English by Hatje Cantz) containing texts written by Laura Stamps, Rem Koolhaas, Willemijn Stokvis, Mark Wigley, Pascal Gielen, Trudy van der Horst and Constant himself. In addition, a children’s book about Constant is being issued by publishing house Leopold. It is authored by Maranke Rinck and illustrated by Martijn van der Linden. The Gemeentemuseum’s special Children’s Gallery will offer a presentation based on the book.

Partnership with Cobra Museum

This summer the Gemeentemuseum is working hand in hand with the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen to reveal the many different facets of Constant’s work. Concurrently with our exhibition, the Cobra Museum will present an exhibition entitled Constant. Space + Colour. From Cobra to New Babylon, focusing particularly on the so far little-known, but very exciting part of Constant’s oeuvre directly preceding the emergence of New Babylon.

The exhibition and catalogue have been created in close cooperation with Fondation Constant and the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, where it has already been presented, and thanks to support from the Mondriaan Fund and the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD).

    Date

    28 May 2016 - 25 September 2016

    Location (museum)

    Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

    Location (city, country)

    Den Haag, Netherlands
    Title Year
    Japans theehuis 1975
    Deurenlabyrint 1974
    Donkere kamer 1974
    Labyrintische ruimte 1973
    Terrain vague [II] 1973
    Amerika ein Irrtum? 1972
    Das Leben 1972
    Entrée du labyrinthe 1972
    Friede - was ist das? 1972
    Le Massacre de My Lai 1972
    Nixon musste etwas tun 1972
    Sind Sie bei der nächsten 1972
    Spiegelzaal 1972
    USA bommenterreur 1972
    Verwenden Sie Ihre Langeweile einmal für 1972
    Erotic Space 1971
    Gezicht op New Babylonische sectoren 1971
    Demonstratie 1970
    Groep sectoren New Babylon 1970
    Mekong River 1970
    Ode à l'Odéon 1969
    LABYRISMEN 00 1968
    LABYRISMEN 01 1968
    LABYRISMEN 01A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 02 1968
    LABYRISMEN 02A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 03 1968
    LABYRISMEN 03A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 04 1968
    LABYRISMEN 04A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 05 1968
    LABYRISMEN 05A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 06 1968
    LABYRISMEN 06A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 07 1968
    LABYRISMEN 07A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 08 1968
    LABYRISMEN 08A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 09 1968
    LABYRISMEN 09A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 10 1968
    LABYRISMEN 10A 1968
    LABYRISMEN 11 1968
    Schaalmodel voor ludieke trap 1968
    Doorsnede grote gele sector [I] 1967
    Grote gele sector 1967
    Mobiel ladderlabyrint 1967
    Mobiel ladderlabyrint 1967
    Sectoren in berglandschap 1967
    Homo Ludens 1966
    Autosaurus 1965
    Maquette voor √2-Omgang 1965
    Model for PCGD in Arnhem 1965
    Grundriss New Babylon über Den Haag 1964
    Homo ludens 1964
    Landschap met sectoren: Vogelvlucht [III] 1964
    Landschap met sectoren: Vogelvlucht [II] 1964
    Landschap met sectoren: Vogelvlucht [I] 1964
    Landschap met Spatiovore 1964
    New Babylon-Den Haag 1964
    Schets voor een sector met een tentdak 1964
    Schets voor een sector [II] 1964
    Schets voor hangende sector 1964
    Schets voor zelfdragende constructie 1964
    Diorama [III] 1963
    New Babylon-Amsterdam [I] 1963
    New Babylon-Barcelona 1963
    New Babylon-Holland 1963
    New Babylon-München 1963
    New Babylon-Paris 1963
    New Babylon-Rotterdam 1963
    Diorama [II] 1962
    Diorama [I] 1962
    Labyratoire 1962
    Hangende sector 1961
    Paysage artificiel 1960
    Spatiovore [V] 1960
    Ambiance de départ 1959
    Groep sectoren 1959
    Industrieel landschap 1959
    Klein Labyr 1959
    Oriënt sector 1959
    Sectorinterieur 1959
    ZT/Lijn zonder einde 1959
    Constructie in oranje 1958
    Gele sector 1958
    Nébulose mécanique [II] 1958
    Nébulose Mécanique [V] 1958
    Rode sector 1958
    Ruimtecircus [II] 1958
    Ruimtelandschap 1957
    Ruimtevaart 1957
    Zonneschip 1957
    Ambiance de jeu 1956
    Compositie Alba [II] 1956
    Compositie Alba [I] 1956
    Constructie geel en wit 1956
    Ontwerp voor een zigeunerkamp in Alba 1956
    Constructie met gebogen vlakken 1954
    Compositie met 158 blokjes 1953
    Compositie met blauwe en witte blokjes 1953
    Reeks van 6 gekleurde vlakken 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 00A Omslag 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 00B Colophon 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 01 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 02 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 03 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 04 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 05 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 06 1953
    VOOR EEN SPATIAAL COLORISME, pag 07 1953
    Zwart rood groen 1953
    De blauwe vlam 1952
    De rode vuist 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 01 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 01a 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 02 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 03 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 04 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 05 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 06 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 07 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 08 1952
    HET UITZICHT VAN DE DUIF 09 1952
    Kleurenplan 1952
    Ruimtelijk Colorisme 1952
    8 x LA GUERRE 1 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 2 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 3 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 4 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 5 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 6 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 7 1951
    8 x LA GUERRE 8 1951
    Dode koeien 1951
    Verschroeide aarde 1951
    Verschroeide aarde [II] 1951
    Verschroeide aarde [I] 1951
    De vos en de haan 1950
    Het laddertje 1949
    Hond 1949
    KBHVN 1949
    Twee dieren in groen landschap 1949
    Kinderen en dieren 1948
    Vogel met wielen 1948
    ZT/Figuur met sterretje 1948
    Mannetje 1947