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A Brief History of the Netherland’s De Stijl Movement

The turn of the 20th century was rich with change in almost all aspects of life. Artists and architects across the globe were more inspired than ever to bring unprecedented works of art to life. Many of which originated in the numerous modernist movements that emerged during this period. Today, we’re exploring De Stijl, a celebrated Dutch movement formed partly as a reaction against Art Deco.

The History of De Stijl

De Stijl was founded in 1917 by a cohort of painters, sculptures, architects and poets in the Netherlands’ largest city, Amsterdam. The art movement is also known as Neoplasticism. However it is more commonly referred to by its traditional name, De Stijl, which says it all for its direction. Meaning ‘the style’ in dutch, nearly all of the artwork and architecture stemmed from a simple vision and philosophy. 

The principles of the movement set to ignore natural form and color. Instead it simplified compositions to only vertical and horizontal lines and palettes to only black, white and primary colors. 

Throughout De Stijl’s lifespan – from 1917 to roughly 1931 – its advocates pushed for full abstraction. However, it never reached the chimeric expressions found in other abstract movements. Artists and architects associated with De Stijl still developed their own visual language, using various avant-garde elements that ranged from basic geometrical figures to intersecting planes and unbent lines.

Much of De Stijl’s work embodied a utopian vision, and realizing that vision was unattainable was one of the resulting factors for its downfall. However, the movement’s continued fame and recognition exists today thanks to the many acclaimed works and artists who contributed to De Stijl. 

Red & Blue Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1923

Celebrated Works

One of De Stijl’s most well-known works came from the Red and Blue Chair. As one of the first explorations of the movement, furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld first designed the chair in 1918 but didn’t fully complete it until five years later, in 1923. 

Sticking to De Stijl’s design philosophy, the Red and Blue Chair makes use of only primary colors, along with black, and is one of the most popular creations of the movement. Rietveld envisioned the chair to be mass-produced but intentionally designed it to appear man-made due to its unique, clearly defined construction. 

Another well-known work of the movement and the only architectural building which followed all of its aesthetic properties was Rietveld’s Rietveld Schröder House. Built in 1924, the house was a commissioned project for Truss Schröder-Schrader, whose original vision included a grand open space without any walls. 

The open interior of Rietveld Schröder House, Gerrit Rietveld, 1924

Rietveld delivered on Schrader’s vision, utilizing construction elements that emphasized the building’s form, including various slabs, posts and beams. Making each wall portable, he designed each room as if each was its own movable entity. The design took use of De Stijl’s emblematic color palette of black and white and looked nothing like any of its neighboring builds.

Although it might not be the most notable movement stemming from the Netherland’s, De Stijl’s presence in everything from Dutch literature and paintings to architecture and music communicates just how influential the art movement was throughout the early 20th century.

Remembering the 1922 Art Week in São Paulo

With Optima’s love for all things modern, we take great pleasure in diving into the history of modernism around the globe, including how the principles of modernism took hold in Brazil. And as luck would have it, the country is celebrating a huge milestone in February 2022 — the 100th anniversary of the Semana de Arte Moderna that runs from February 10 through 17 — so we are taking a closer look at this pivotal moment in time.

For the people of Brazil, 1922 was a landmark year. It marked a full century of independence from Portugal – and it was also the year that put Brazilian art on the international map, beginning with an idea emerged from a group of artists to host a week-long art celebration around modernism. Dubbed the Semana de Arte Moderna — this game-changing event took the form of exhibitions, lectures, poetry readings and musical performances that brought avant-garde works and ideas to the entire country.

Today, 100 years later, we look back at the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922 and recognize it as a major turning point in the development of modern art. At the time, however, it was greeted with mockery, anger and fear. There were stories of horrified audiences throwing objects at performers on stage, and critics fuming with negative reviews of art, music and theater they didn’t understand.

Original poster for 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna, Wikipedia

Central to the works presented during the Semana de Arte Moderna was the theme of creating work that drew upon European influences but was uniquely Brazilian. This was a radical approach in 1922, since the European centers of art and culture had a tight grasp on what was considered “art,” and the idea that Brazilian artists had voices of their own was considered shocking. 

Following the Semana de Arte Moderna, the Brazilian Modernism movement blossomed. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, while much of the world was still in a state of flux about what exactly constituted ‘modern’ art, the country was leading the way into new styles of artistic expressions that were quickly embraced by Brazilians as a unique cultural identity. And with this new-found inspiration and energy, the modernist architecture movement took hold.

The painting A Negra by Tarsila do Amaral was part of an exhibition of her work at Semana de Arte Moderna. From Caixa Modernista, Edusp / Editoria UFMG / Imprensa Oficial, São Paulo, 2003.

In the 1950s Brazil decided to found Brasilia, a new capital city heralded as a great experiment in modernist architecture, to help develop Brazil’s interior. Led by the vision of Brazil’s most famous architect and designer,  Oscar Niemeyer, the country began to define itself by its modernist aesthetic, with buildings characterized by their use of concrete and free-flowing curves.

As we reconsider the impact the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna had on the rise of modernist architecture around the globe, we can’t help but recognize how the forever modern principles we practice at Optima fit into a larger context. It is Optima’s pleasure and privilege to be such an esteemed and vital company.

The Work of Anita Malfatti

There have been many leading ladies in the history of Modernism; one of whom is Anita Malfatti. Malfatti is widely regarded as the pioneer of the Modernist movement in Brazil — sharing with her home country the style that had already taken American and European culture by storm — and leaving behind a life that would inspire generations to come. 

Life in Brazil

Anita Malfatti was born Ana Catarina Malfatti in Sao Paulo in 1889 to a family of immigrants; her father was a civil engineer and her mother was a painter, and a highly-cultured woman. Malfatti’s mother was her primary teacher, and a huge source of inspiration as Malfatti began to explore creatively while growing up. Due to a congenital defect that made her left arm nearly immobile, Malfatti was forced to paint right-handed even though she was left-handed. Nevertheless, Malfatti wasn’t deterred from her passion for the visual arts.

Pursuing art in Brazil was limiting at that time. The country lacked cultural institutions and had a limited scope of art theory compared to its global counterparts. Much Brazilian art at the time was in the classical, romantic style and was concerned with nationalistic interpretations of Brazilian pride and culture. So while Malfatti began her studies at Mackenzie College in Sao Paulo, the local arts scene was not enough to satiate her curiosity, and in 1912, she left for Berlin.

Anita Malfatti, Fernanda de Castro, 1924, oil on canvas, 73.5 x 54.5 cm, Private collection, © Anita Malfatti
Anita Malfatti, Fernanda de Castro, 1924, oil on canvas, 73.5 x 54.5 cm, Private collection, © Anita Malfatti

The Work of Anita Malfatti

In Berlin, Malfatti spent four years studying at the Royal Academy of the Arts under famous expressionist artists. There she began to hone her artistic style of expressionist portraiture and metal engraving. After, Malfatti returned temporarily home to host her first solo show in Brazil in 1917-1918. The show received negative reception and was seen as too modern, bizarre and self-indulgent. 

Despite the uproar at the time, that solo showcase was the first introduction of Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Futurism in Brazil. Recognition of Malfatti’s innovation was soon to come in Brazil. In 1922, Malfatti returned to Sao Paulo festival, The Week of Modern Art, in 1922, alongside other Brazilian Modernist artists (Tarsila do Amaral, Mario de Andrade, Menotti del Picchia, Oswald de Andrade), earning themselves the name  “The Group of Five.” The group’s presence that year made revolutionary strides in how Modern art was perceived and utilized in Brazil.

Malfatti continued to explore her artist expression, leaning towards the naive and folkloric later in her life, until she eventually died in 1984. By then, her influence on the artistic DNA of Brazil was undeniable, and her impact on Modernism remains profound today.

An Interview with Ellison Keomaka

Artwork at Optima is a huge part of our love of design, and what makes our spaces special at every turn. Recently, we sat down with Ellison Keomaka, an artist whose work appears throughout some of our Arizona properties, to discuss his process, his sources of inspiration and his relationship with Optima. 

Tell us a bit about your background. Where does your passion for art stem from? How did you first get started as an artist?

I believe everyone is creative in their own way, and mine happens to be visual arts. I’ve had many interests and endeavors over the years, but I always enjoyed doing my own thing and set out pretty young to start my artistic career. I started off drawing vehicles, eventually navigating away from that and into comic-style artwork. Every piece paves the way for new ideas in the next creation. My style has changed quite a bit over the years and evolved with my experiences in life.

B.E.V. by Ellison Keomaka
B.E.V. by Ellison Keomaka

What are your preferred mediums? How do 2-D and 3-D spaces interact within your pieces?

I used to be very into realism, and I used a lot of airbrush and classic techniques. As an artist, I wanted to use more of the material found in the world around me. From soil found in distant countries to fabrics found at a craft store, I’m always searching for the next textural combination that makes something interesting. It’s fun to see these materials, textures and artifacts and make them come together in a 2-D space.

An example would be my use of vintage magazines and articles. In one of the Optima paintings, — Present Future Past — there are magazine articles from 1938, a dishtowel, watchband and wooden cutouts pressed into the piece.

How does color play a part in your work?

In my earlier works, there were more dark colors. As I developed my style, I recognized the value of color in changing human emotion. When you look at specific colors or shapes, they cause you to feel something or spark inspiration. All of that makes color an infinite playground for an artist to create.

How did you get involved with Optima?

Around 2016, I was eating lunch across from Optima Kierland while it was under construction — and it just looked so wildly different from anything else in Phoenix. I enjoy architecture, and Optima’s aesthetic caught my eye. Fast forward, and I ended up moving in there. They were looking for resident events, and I offered to do an art show; I hosted three across Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Kierland Apartments. The Optima team saw my work, and we started having conversations about commissioning pieces for 7180 Optima Kierland

I was fortunate to have full creative reign on the layouts of each piece, which allowed me to take creative risks and challenge myself. I would consider the Optima series of paintings to be my best body of work to represent myself because each one is unique and tailor-made to fit in those spaces. 

Present Future Past by Ellison Keomaka
Present Future Past by Ellison Keomaka

Give us some details on a favorite piece of yours at Optima. What was the inspiration behind that particular piece? How does it fit into the space at Optima? 

Suppose I had to pick a favorite piece —which is always a challenge — I resonate most with Present Future Past. It has a real impact on the viewer with the contrast between the bright blue on the bottom and the upper half’s antique design. While the fluorescent pink line emits excitement of the future, the top presents a juxtaposition of a rugged, forgotten past. This painting aims to inspire us to be present, calm and grateful for occupying this time and space. 

Keomaka’s color-filled, vibrant artwork mirrors the same inspired emotions that we search for in our built environment. As with all of the artwork that adorns our walls, his work tells a series of unique stories that speak to everyone who passes through our spaces. Optima certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. 

Sculpture Spotlight: Windsong

A striking piece that complements the surrounding green space at Optima Camelview Village, Windsong creates a bold statement that both contrasts with and engages its environment. As with Kiwi, Duo and other original Optima sculptures, Windsong was designed by David Hovey Sr., and today we dissect its form and how it integrates into a larger context.

To stand out against its colorful backdrop, Windsong stands more than 15 feet tall, providing a dramatic addition to the Arizona desert foliage. The sculpture is oriented around a rotating turntable, allowing the top pieces to move with the flow of the wind. Through movement and size alone, Windsong celebrates and embraces the elements, subtly alluding to Scottsdale’s connection to and love of nature. 

With a mixture of color and shapes, Windsong also evokes a playful and enthusiastic energy. Each piece of the sculpture is composed of both sharp corners and rounded edges, a culmination of form that emits joy. 

Optima’s passion for public art, both inside and outside our building, is a reflection of our dedication to engaging, beautiful spaces. Whether it’s through architecture, design or sculpture, we’re in constant pursuit of creating meaningful homes that have a lasting impact. 

The Playful Work of Alexander Calder

It’s no secret that we love color at Optima, and we carefully curate our interior furniture, textures and designs to reflect the vibrancy of our spaces. Our curated artwork is no exception, and throughout the halls of projects such as Optima Signature, Alexander Calder’s bright works greet residents with bold tones and distinct shape. A multimedia artist whose influence spans across decades, Calder’s work creates a meaningful connection to a rich piece of art history.

Alexander Calder holds up one of his mobiles.
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Calder’s Past

Born in Pennsylvania in 1898, Calder came from a family of artists; his grandfather and father both had rich careers as sculptors and his mother was a professional portrait artist. Though his family had artistic roots, they supposedly did not want him to follow in their footsteps. Calder began studying mechanical engineering in New Jersey, bouncing between jobs all while still being inspired by create. By the 1920s, Calder had moved back to New York to pursue a career as an artist. 

Calder’s Artistic Career

After studying in New York, Calder moved to Paris where he studied, established a studio and met his future wife. While living in Paris, Calder joined the ever-growing network of avant-garde artists, including Fernand Léger, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Throughout his life, Calder maintained a strong connection to France, naming many of his works in French regardless of their location. After a lifetime of impactful creativity and exploration, Calder died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976, leaving behind an expansive and far-reaching legacy. 

Calder’s Legacy

Over his career, Calder produced a wide range of work, spanning from sculpture, to stage sets, paintings, prints and jewelry. Like previous generations of Calders, he was also a recognized large-scale sculptor. Flamingo, one of his more notable works in Chicago, adorns the Federal Plaza with beautiful form and the famous “Calder Red” color. We’re thrilled and honored to have the works of Alexander Calder throughout our buildings, and hope they bring a bright source of inspiration to those who view and enjoy them. 

 

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