Constant, introduction

'This is how it might look'

In May 1980 Constant gives a lecture at the Delft University of Technology, with the title: New Babylon - Ten Years On. Constant is looking back at one of the most striking periods in the history of Dutch contemporary art, which had a huge influence on the way countless artists, architects and urban developers think and act. After his time as co- founder of the painters' movement CoBrA Constant leaves for London. Here he witnesses the urban development challenges and also the solutions for this war-ravaged city. He meets Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, among others.

Back in the Netherlands he works with the architects Aldo van Eyck and Gerrit Rietveld. He likewise fosters and maintains his many international contacts, which also include those with the Danish artist Asger Jorn. Constant becomes ever more convinced that a new social and cultural order will advance the cause of humanity. His visionary spirit anticipates that the automation of production will provide mankind with increasing amounts of free time (thereby creating scope for the “Homo Ludens”, the man who is playful and creative) and that this futuristic view would become feasible in what, from 1960, is to be known as New Babylon.

This vision is what will dominate his oeuvre from this moment on. He makes drawings, models, photo collages, plans, constructions and paintings. In addition he substantiates New Babylon with numerous written works, talks and lectures in various countries. The social and political turbulence of the sixties threatens to turn New Babylon into a utopia: the New Babylon project stops in 1974. In his “farewell lecture” Constant looks back on this period. He accepts that the “Homo Ludens” has not yet achieved the “collective creativity” he desires.

The New Babylon model has faded into the background and it does not look as if this will change for the time being (…….) This is how it might look.

from: ‘New Babylon – Ten years on’, lecture at the Delft University of Technology, 23 May 1980.

June 2015
Paul van Rosmalen