The Woman Who Invented Abstractionism
The Hilma af Klint retrospective at the Guggenheim is by far the trippiest thing I’ve seen within the confines of an esteemed art institution. The show is expansive and stunning and truly transcends time (images in her paintings look like things discovered decades later, from a double helix to the 80s electronic memory game Simon). As if to prove she’s a futurist, she envisioned that her major body of work would be displayed in a spiral temple.
Words cannot fully describe the power or style of her pieces, which are botanical, psychedelic, scientific, occult, and truly mystical. Her abstract paintings, which she started producing five years before Kandinsky or any other of the more famous men of her time created something of the sort, were channeled through her spiritualism. She was influenced by Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and later in life, anthroposophy.
It’s all a bit mind-bending. af Klint knew that the world was not ready for her work, so she specified it not be shown until 20 years after her death. This was likely because, at a visit to her Stockholm studio in 1908, Rudolf Steiner was “unable to decipher the paintings and claims that no one during the coming 50 years will be able to.” She died in 1944, the same year as Kandinsky and Mondrian, and it was over four decades until there was a show that included her paintings.
From The New Yorker:
The art is fearfully esoteric. But something about it resonates with a restlessly searching mood in present culture, hostile to old ideas. Af Klint has a lot of people’s rapt attention. From what I hear, young artists of many stripes are mad for her.
Yes, people are ready for it. Never before have I witnessed so many museum-goers studying paintings so up close (see my top photo, above) and really being with the art. And I’d argue our current #MeToo era is fertile ground for retelling origin stories with more representation of women and those who were otherwise overlooked.
The endlessly inspiring Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is up at the Guggenheim in New York until April 23, 2019.
n.b. You may recall that Acne Studios did a capsule collection using Hilma af Klint prints in 2014. (thx Eviana)
Update: Here’s a good video introduction to af Klint’s work: