Constant’s New Babylon Exhibition at the Gemeente Museum
Gemeente Museum, The Hague
Exhibition runs until the 25th of September, 2016
New Babylon has one feet dipped in the egalitarian ideals of utopia, and the other in the brutal realities of the post-industrial revolution world, but involuntarily refuses to conform to either principles. It is the result of the socio-political tensions that erupted after the devastating years of WWII but with a faint yearning of the utopian ideals set forth by the works of Sir Thomas Moore only to be muffled by the locomotion of industrialization.
Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920-2005), the co-founder of Cobra and a prominent contributor to the Situationist movement, began his first attempts of New Babylon at 1956. The anti-capitalist and anti-design alternative society model was the result of two decades of work which consisted of models, topographic maps, collages, drawings, paintings, films as well as political manifestos which arguably came to an end in 1974. The conception of New Babylon was the result of Europe’s longing to create a better world atop the ruins of WWII. In order to visualize the ideal society, Constant proposed a city of leisure and recreation amidst a city of machines adhering to the philosophies of Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. For almost twenty years, Constant diverted his attention by temporarily abandoning painting in favour of creating large scale architectural models which may have been inspired by his friendship with architect, Aldo Van Eyck.
Rather than its inhabitants focusing on the mechanically mundane and superfluous tasks to keep a city functioning, the city itself is an automated organism which allows its citizens to divert its attention to honing its creative and adventurous qualities. New Babylon is a city of play consisting of ever-changing environments as colours, light, texture, temperature and air quality would be easily manipulated to suit the needs and entertain its inhabitants. The city was essentially built to uphold the ideals of freedom and the exploitation of life’s greatest pleasures while maintaining a functioning and organized society. New Babylon is essentially an automated city that proclaims to harmoniously intertwine order and the pursuit of hedonism. It is an attempt to re-image the negative connotations of the old Babylon and ensure a different fate for a city with an adopted ancient name. It is truly a participatory city rather that of a spectacle one, a notion suggested by John Sorkin, an issue that has plagued market driven urbanism in contemporary cities.
Constant’s work on New Babylon was finally completed in 1974 in a final exhibition held at the Gemeente Museum at The Hague, Netherlands. It is considered one of the last and greatest European works of utopian art, alongside with the visions created by the Archigram movement. A chance to view a near complete collection at a temporary exhibition is currently held at the Gemeente Museum until the 25th of September, 2016.
Author: Karl Abi Karam
Further Reading and Viewing