Pieter Cornelis Mondrian, the Dutch master practitioner of the De Stijl art movement, inspired many art forms and inventions since his death in 1944. Fashion houses have produced dresses that look like their models wrapped themselves in Mondrian composition paintings. Footwear labels such as Nike have produced Mondrian sneakers. There’s even been Mondrian placemats and napkins for the dining table. However, one link not often examined is the De Stijl movement, and its related cousins of Neo-Plasticism and Geometric Abstraction. The Mondrian paintings, most famously known as Compositions, consisted of white backgrounds with black gridlines, filled in with the three primary colours. The art movement Madí incorporates some of these designs into their “concrete art”, or non-representational geometric abstraction as it is known.

Madí started in 1946 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when Carmelo Arden Quin, Gyula Kosice and Rhod Rothfuss published, as is popularly the case, the MADI Manifesto. The acronym itself remains a mystery to scholars: some insist that is stands for MAterialismo DIalectismo (Dialectical Materialism, which Quin applied as the dialectic materialism of art), others believe it means Movimiento Artistico De Invencion, while others maintain it is the initials from CarMelo ArDen QuIn (although this is the least probable). Whatever the exact etymology, the movement has come to focus on geometric shapes that combine complex and individual aspects with liveliness and whimsy. In the words of the Museum of Geometric and Madi Art: “focusing on geometric shapes that spill out of the traditional frame, and articulated and mobile structures, MADI artists refuse to make the object representative, but rather focus on the object and the colours themselves. One does not have to look for meaning behind the art, but rather enjoy each piece for itself.”

Madi art is therefore significant in the fact that it does not purport to have some higher purpose. The work of art is there for everyone to enjoy – there are no more subtle messages, except the ones that you want to interpret yourself. While that stance is correct in one aspect, it also slightly misrepresents a normative aim of the movement: that is, all artworks should be fun. “Fun” as a term itself is obviously very subjective, and in seeking to create that, Madi artists are appealing to a fundamental ideal and aspect in all human beings, much as Mondrian believed he did as well. This school of thought has been put forward by second generation Madi artists, who in turn are supported by sociologists. As the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga argued: “Play reveals an aspiration to beauty. The terms we use to designate the elements of play are, for the most part, the same as those utilized in the aesthetic realm: beauty, tension, balancing, equilibrium, gradation, contrast, etc. Like art, play engages and delivers. It absorbs. It captivates, or, in other words, it charms. It is full of those two supremely noble qualities which man expresses through rhythm and harmony”.

Several Mondrian paintings were arguably playful, but not in the ideational sense that the Madi artists approached their work. In that respect, Madi artists can be seen in continuing the stylistic interpretations of geometric abstraction, but not all its ideals as Mondrian saw them. As French art reviewer Dominique Jacquemin said: “MADI, the only remaining contemporary art movement which can pride itself in possessing both coherence and a truly international outlook”. Well, we’re not quite sure if it is the only contemporary art movement. History will have to decide that.