‘Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future’
“[T]he Guggenheim’s much-lauded exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,”” writes Susan Tallman, is “the first comprehensive American overview of the artist now hailed, some seven decades after her death, as the female progenitor of modernist abstraction. Even if this were true—and it really isn’t—it would be the least material or interesting thing about this ecstatic and perplexing body of work.
“Af Klint was one of many artists (including Kandinsky and Malevich) drawn to the esoteric philosophies that flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and the like. But af Klint’s engagement went deeper than most, and she was tenacious in her pursuit of personal spiritual contact. Her greatest work, the series of 193 Paintings for the Temple, was made by channeling spirit-masters who she claimed moved her hand and planted images in her mind. She spent the rest of her life mulling over what they gave her.
“The Paintings for the Temple look like nothing af Klint had painted before, and like nothing in contemporary European art. Wildly divergent in style and content, they range from spare calligraphic loops to cartoonish explosions and enigmatic tables of gestural marks. Letters and words run in every direction. There are lots of snails. […] The most spectacular of these, The Ten Largest—so called by af Klint herself—are hung together in a room at the bottom of the museum’s ramp to form the exhibition’s jubilant kick-off. Nearly eleven feet tall, they fill the eye with deftly juggled color and form in a manner entirely unlike the busy, fractured compositions with which Kandinsky edged his way into abstraction. Af Klint’s schematic flowers and loop-the-loop letters are big and flat and bold, and they bump up against a bevy of odd motifs resembling embroidery patterns, barn hexes, corkscrew diatoms, and Parcheesi boards. It is tempting to credit af Klint with a protofeminist synthesis of folk art, scientific illustration, and spirography, but her explanation was simpler: “Amaliel draws a sketch, which H then paints.””
For more information, visit guggenheim.org.
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