As New York City continues its process of opening back up (The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens August 29, 2020), I thought I’d pay homage to an incredible show I experienced at the Guggenheim in February 2019. The work feels newly relevant somehow, and the photographs of people filling indoor spaces without hesitation feels to be an abstraction just as the works of art in this exhibition reflect.
As an artist who has taken an art history class or two, I had never heard of Hilma af Klint. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1862, af Klint was an Artist with a capital ‘A’. She studied at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts graduating with honors in 1887 and became a respected artist with a studio in the city center. She painted botanicals and landscapes with exacting likenesses, but her large-scale abstracts fill the viewer with an otherworldly awe. Her first nonobjective series, The Paintings for the Temple, 1906-1915, was a reflection of a deep dive into the spiritual and metaphysical realm and an endeavor to, “articulate mystical views of reality.” This series, communicated to her through a medium, was intended to be housed in a circular ‘temple’ for the works’ eventual exhibition, with spirals and triangles and organic forms recurring motifs in her collective 1,300-piece oeuvre.
Ahead of her time in her conviction “that reality was not limited to the physical dimension, but that there was also an inner world that was just as real as the outer,” the concepts and methods that she communicated and practiced led her to create in near isolation. She feared the world of her time was not ready for the messages and meanings that her art conveyed. Her work was shown to only a few people, and she stipulated that her work not be shown until twenty years after her death.
At the time of her death in 1944, Frank Lloyd Wright was sketching his spiral ideas for what would become the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a “temple of the spirit,” as conceived by Hilla Rebay. The Guggenheim seemed to be the perfect vehicle for a major showing of af Klint’s, ‘Paintings for the Future,’ in a building ‘where viewers could take in her work as they ascend a spiral staircase towards the heavens.’ Perhaps the future she was waiting for is finally in alignment.
The article below is a great overview of Hilma af Klimt.
And this article has an excellent more recent take on Hilma and her work.