Hilma af Klint Comes to the Guggenheim

Oct 8, 2018 2:11PM

The Swedish artist sought ‘to offer people a spiritual pathway’ through her painting. By Caryn James Oct. 6, 2018 10:44 a.m. ET. The Wall Street Journal.


As early as 1906, the Swedish painter and mystic Hilma af Klint was filling canvases with circles, spirals and areas of pure color. While her contemporaries Kandinsky and Mondrian became lionized, she made similar breakthroughs in relative obscurity. She ordered that her work not be shown publicly for 20 years after her death, hoping it would reach a more receptive audience.

Many decades after she died, in 1944, the Guggenheim Museum in New York is opening the first major retrospective of her work in the U.S., “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future.”

‘Group I, Primordial Chaos, No. 16’ (1906-1907) PHOTO: THE HILMA AF KLINT FOUNDATION, STOCKHOLM

Highlights of the exhibition include “Paintings for the Temple” (1906-1915), a series of 193 works, some of them 10 feet high, that Af Klint made at what she said was the urging of a spectral voice called Amaliel.

“The subject is the cycle of life, from birth to old age, a monumental theme that she has undertaken on this monumental scale,” says Tracey Bashkoff, the Guggenheim curator who organized the show. Af Klint, she says, created art “to offer people a spiritual pathway” to a higher plane.

Among the exhibition’s 160 artworks and notebooks are many reconciling science with the abstract, including “Evolution” (1908), a series of paintings with organic shapes, and “The Atom Series” (1917), watercolors of cubes, triangles and stars.

'Group VI, no 15. Evolution Series WUS, Seven Pointed Star

The artist’s fame has been growing. In Olivier Assayas’s 2016 film “Personal Shopper,”Kristen Stewart’s character, who believes she can contact the spirit world, is obsessed with af Klint. “I wanted to establish that my character was not nuts,” Mr. Assayas says, “but maybe involved in a journey that is as valid as was the painting of one of the 20th century’s great artists.”

“Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” opens Friday at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave., New York; guggenheim.org

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