at the Guggenheim Museum,through Apr 23, 2019
The works of Swedish painter and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) are mainly spiritual, and her artistic work is a consequence of this. Much has been said and written about how her work was ahead of what we know as abstract art (she was working on non-figurative painting as early as 1906, years before Kandisnky, Mondrian, Malevich, and Kupka among others). However, this happened without any contact or recognition from contemporary modern movements during her lifetime.
The fact that her works had not been seen much since their creation has liberated them from a sense of belonging to a specific time, place and/or art movement; and thus there could not be a better name for this exhibition. She knew her work was for the future, in her last will Klint stipulated that her work shouldn’t be shown until 20 years after her death, as she considered that the world was not yet ready to understand it. The first large-format show to include af Klint’s abstract work actually came 42 years after her death, in 1986 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Af Klint’s art has been seen in only a few group shows and a solo show at MoMA PS1, but this exhibition is the first comprehensive overview showing in the United States since 1986. Paintings for the Future sets the tone with subtlety, its name placed on the entrance wall, painted as though it was illuminated, ushers you in to an upward pilgrimage to what it intends to highlight: “The Paintings for the Temple”, a series of works which af Klint envisioned placed within a spiral shaped building quite similar to the Guggenheim itself. “The temple that you seek to create is in constant transformation, it is modifiable and still by its inner character an expression for balance, a turning building which is in permanent movement and nevertheless at rest,” – Hilma af Klint.
The museum’s architecture takes you through the exhibition’s 167 paintings and 7 notebooks with reasonable ease. As you enter the first room — the High Gallery — you are faced with the best introduction possible: “The Ten Largest” a series of large panels depicting the human life cycle, the sheer scale of the paintings (nearly 9 feet wide by 10 feet tall) is quite impressive and fully immersive. It’s hard to imagine a person around 5 feet tall working on canvases of that size.
As you move on up the ramp you are taken through various phases of her artistic development. From loose sketches, through automatic drawings and some conventional work (portraits, watercolors of plants, and one landscape painting) to the spiritually-guided works which reach their summit at the three-work Altarpiece series which is arranged in chapel-like form. After that, there’s a companion show by R.H. Quaytman, the artist who organized her show at PS1 back in 1988, which is a nice way to finish things off as his work pays homage and provides additional commentary on af Klint’s work.
This is a show that is hard to leave from as the exhibition fits the space quite well. Approaching pieces from different angles whether by using the elevators or going up and down the stairs afterwards adds a lot to the artistic (and spiritual) experience. “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.” – Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, 1897.
Although af Klint’s work is more than a hundred years old, it feels current and quite relevant. The amount of people attending the show on a weekday in middle of its run is a testament to the enduring quality of her innovations and pursuits. Repeated viewings highly recommended (get there early if you can). You have until April 23rd, so don't miss out.
Author: Julián León