A Piet Mondrian Painting Has Been Hanging Upside Down for Over 75 Years“Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious.”
While art is open to a seemingly infinite set of interpretations, the actual positioning of any given work is less a topic of serious discourse. But one art historian has determined that Piet Mondrian’s New York City I (1941), which has exhibited at various institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, has been hung upside down over the past 75 years.
The composition features a geometric grid of overlapping yellow, red and blue lines atop a raw canvas backdrop, where near the bottom, the lines begin to noticeably thicken — resembling an abstracted skyline. According to curator Susanne Meyer-Büser, who was conducting research on the artwork in lieu of a new exhibition on Mondrian at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen: K20 (where the painting has hung since 1975), the “thickening of the grid should actually be at the top, like a dark sky,” she said in a statement.
Meyer-Büser and several other researchers came to this conclusion by comparing the painting to a similarly titled piece, New York City (1942), on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which prominently features the grid thicken toward the top of the canvas. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realized it was very obvious. I am 100% certain the picture is the wrong way around,” she added.
While it’s unclear how and why the painting was hung upside down in the first place, New York City I will continue to hang upside down due to the fragility of the piece. “The adhesive tapes are already extremely loose and hanging by a thread,” Meyer-Büser reiterated, adding that “if you were to turn it upside down now, gravity would pull it into another direction. And it’s now part of the work’s story.”
Elsewhere, an activist glued his head to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.