A World for All and None: De Stijl, Modernism, and the Decorative Arts
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In October 1917, the first issue of the journal De Stijl was printed in the Netherlands under the editorial leadership of Theo van Doesburg. The publication became a nexus around which a core group of progressive artists, architects, and designers were brought together. They all shared a similar goal: to be a platform through which a new aesthetic would be declared, one that would diagnose and resolve the social, cultural, and metaphysical conditions that had led to the First World War. The group’s vision was totalizing, meant to encompass all forms of art, from armchairs to architecture. This dissertation explores the position of the decorative arts within De Stijl’s utopian project. The decorative arts were the bellwether of many of the principal social, cultural, and political problems that modernity brought to the fore. As a result, the polemics that emerged from the decorative arts profoundly informed the development of De Stijl’s artistic praxis and theoretical framework during the formative years of the group. By acknowledging the origins of many of De Stijl’s intellectual and aesthetic positions within the decorative arts, this dissertation aims to present a renewed perspective on the group’s formal projects in interior design, stained glass, and furniture. By rooting the work of these artists within the instrumental role of the decorative arts, this dissertation gives needed attention to these essential, yet undertheorized aspects of De Stijl’s utopian project to provide new insights into one of the most prominent artistic movements of the interwar period. In doing so, it endeavors to call for a broader reassessment of the intrinsic role the decorative arts played in the emergence of modernism broadly, and the practice of the European avant-garde specifically, in the years following World War I.