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Cloud shapes

Koehorst in ’t Veld elaborated the various themes in the exhibition in what they refer to as “cloud shapes”. These clouds are each built around a specific work from the collection, which is then provided with a context with reference material that can be borrowed from the national collection, but that often also comes from other sources and archives. The recent changeover was already pre-programmed. Central pieces could easily be replaced by similar works from the collection, while maintaining the storyline – for example, about the application of colour or the materialisation of the architecture. These thematic installations are supplemented with projections that reveal interesting sub-aspects in a succession of images, for example based on the business cards of Nelly van Doesburg, which we found at the Netherlands Institute for Art History, or photos of the same balcony, taken over time by very different people.

Jannetje in ’t Veld: “For us, the different archives were a constant source of new discoveries. Especially when we started to include the connections between collections in the story. The wealth that you tap into then is inexhaustible. This brings the exhibition in line with the ambition of Disclosing Architecture, which not only works on the restoration and conservation of the collection, but also wants to contribute to its accessibility through digitisation. We see Atelier Nelly and Theo van Doesburg as a plea to look for multiple voices in opening up archives, by establishing connections between collections and involving the public in the interpretation of the stories that then emerge.”


Part of the exhibition focuses on the physical traces left by Nelly and Theo on the works. Remarkably enough, these included metres of adhesive tape that have since been removed by the restoration studio. They also included fingerprints and signatures. During the restoration process, it became clear that certain signatures had been tampered with, for example; it cannot be ruled out that Nelly added Theo’s signature to some unsigned works after his death. Such storylines are unique and cannot easily be told by a comparable piece. So they had to be replaced by new stories for the changeover.

Toon Koehorst: “In addition to zooming in on beautiful details like these, we also see the exhibition as a spatial model for how you can deal with digitisation. You can see how important it is to look at other sub-collections, for example that of Cornelis van Eesteren, with whom Theo often collaborated. There you’ll find sketches which they worked on together. Or in the archives of Piet Zwart, who regularly stayed in Meudon and photographed the interior of the house from the balcony. The trail ran through these archives to that of the CIAM conferences. And so on. Naturally, the curators of the national collection are familiar with this research practice, but the challenge for us was how to make such an ever-expanding search visible and accessible within an exhibition.”

Jannetje in ’t Veld: “Digitisation makes it relatively easy to follow such a process, within the national collection and beyond. If you take the trouble, a world opens up through the wealth of links. In the design of Atelier Nelly and Theo van Doesburg, we have translated this by using multiple ways of opening up to tell the multitude of stories. Of course, those selections are arbitrary. They reflect our own choices and interpretation. The archival world often still shies away from such choices, because they have insufficient academic foundations. Our way is probably faster and lighter. But we also don’t pretend to tell the definitive story. None of what we show is cast in stone. In fact, we love it when our reading of the material is contradictory. That only benefits the multivocality of the conversation.”

An essential shift is emerging in the way we view digitisation, according to the designers. As Toon Koehorst says, “For the time being, the image of a purely technical task dominates. But we believe that the essential impact is linked to the cultural value it contains. Because digitisation provides access to all possible links and networks. Such a layer is indispensable to achieve fundamentally different access to heritage.”

Disclosing Architecture

Because of its special cultural and historical value, the Theo van Doesburg collection has been extensively researched, preserved and, where necessary, restored as part of the extensive Disclosing Architecture restoration programme. Disclosing Architecture looks at the archives from fresh perspectives in order to reformulate the collection policy and develop new ideas in relation to how we value historical sources.