Constant, who trained as a painter, was a leading figure of the Dutch art scene of the second half of the 20th century. In 1948, he founded the international movement COBRA with Danish, Belgian and Dutch dissident surrealists, and advocated free, spontaneous and joyful art that reconnected with the universal through research on archetypal forms. At the beginning of the 1950s, he participated with Dutch members in meetings of the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM) and he drew closer to the dissident group Team X, in particular to Aldo Van Eyck, with whom he began to collaborate in 1952. Together, they called for spatial colorism, which, following De Stijl, reaffirmed the importance of color in architecture. Beginning in 1953, Constant began to focus on construction and he experimented with these principles in sculptures inspired by neoplasticism and then neo-constructivism. The artist also created several spatio-dynamic projects (1953-56) with Nicolas Schöffer, who introduced him to Espace group founded by André Bloc and Felix Del Marle, Espace which was advocating a new synthesis of the arts in France. At this period, Constant had already begun thinking about urban reality, calling for a movement towards nomadism and the generalization of playful behavior. In 1956, he joined the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which Asger Jorn founded as a reaction against the International Style. That same year, he abandoned painting to exclusively dedicate himself for eighteen years to New Babylon, a radical illustration of “unitary urbanism” by Guy Debord. He also participated in the founding of the Situationist International in 1957, from which he resigned three years later. His utopian project for a planetary city, that preceded Yona Friedman’s research and radical groups such as Archigram, would become an iconic reference in the architectural imagination of the 20th century.
Painter and architect, Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920, Amsterdam – 2005, Utrecht), known as Constant, was also the author of several artist books (Voor een Spatiaal Colorisme, with Aldo Van Eyck; New Babylon, 1963), numerous manifestos (La cause était entendue, (The cause was heard) 1948, with Christian Dotremont, Eph Noiret, Corneille, Karel Appel and Asger Jorn; De la collaboration à l’unité des arts plastiques, ( From collaboration to unity of the visual arts, 1955) as well as articles in the magazine, L’Internationale Situationniste. His work has been shown at several historic exhibitions (Mobile Architecture, Amsterdam, 1962) and retrospectives (Witte de With, Rotterdam, 1998; Documenta in Kassel, 2002; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 2005). New Babylon was the subject of numerous publications and international colloquia (The Value of Dreaming the City of Tomorrow, Technische Universiteit Delft, 2000). Most models of the project are now kept in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.