The title of the exhibition exploring the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, is perfectly fitting, referring to both the core of her practice and her role as an artist. Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction outlines her place alongside the other important abstract practitioners such as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian while also tracing her own unique and highly spiritualist approach to production. Running until 6 July, the stunning retrospective uncovers the core motivations and elements of af Klint’s work and features around 250 pieces, including paintings, various notebooks, sketches and film.
Although the artist died 70 years ago her art is comparatively new due to the fact she directed that many of her major paintings be concealed from the public until 20 years after her death. In reality, the first time they came to light was double the amount of time she requested and they appeared in 1986 in a Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985. This time-lapse has not made damaged the influence of her works, which are just as relevant and timeless as they were during production. Dealing with continuous human concerns such as evolution, gender divides and religion, her art still makes a huge impact on audiences today.
It also perhaps her mode of production that allows her work to transcend time in its explicitly spiritual form. During her training at the Swedish Academy of Art in 1882-1887 she was part of a collective of women who referred to themselves as The Five. Together they partook in séances to come into contact with a number of spirits to direct their art in automatic drawing and writing. It was during this time that af Klint was guided to produce her The Paintings for the Temple (1906-1915). Full of symbols, repeating sequences and colour, these pieces are straight out of the artist’s subconscious and produce an unusual response in the viewer. Forced to look beyond the material, the audience finds their own understanding of the world drawn into the endless spirals and mathematical shapes.
The centre of the exhibition is The Ten Largest (1907), which is pretty much what it says on the tin. Positioned in one room, the 10 large-scale paintings (c. 3.20 x 2.40 m) stand boldly above the viewer, exploring the cycle of life from childhood to old age in four stages. The works are not just impressive in scale but in content and they move from the vibrant, promising symbols of childhood to the fading shades of old age, reminding visitors of their inevitable journey through life.
The show travels through her output in chronological order, and consequently the progression of af Klint’s art over time becomes apparent. The automatic, simplistic forms of Primordial Chaos (1906) give way to the detailed calculation of The Three Altarpieces (1915) and the spirals transform into circles and come up against controlled lines and triangles. However, the heart of the artist’s work remains the same and her pieces continue to search for the secrets of the spiritual domain and the cycles of life. Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction is a provocative exhibition that not only brings together some visually captivating art but forces the audience to directly engage with art at an emotive level.
Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction, until 6 July, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gl. Strandvej13 3050 Humlebæk.
1. Hilma af Klint, Group IV, No 3, The Ten Largest, Youth, 1907 © Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk Photo: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
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