This week’s pick: Hilma af Klint (1866-1944), a Swedish artist who painted radical abstract pieces in the first few years of the 20th century, long before the style was considered en vogue. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1987 and briefly served as the secretary of the Association of Swedish Women Artists, although she spent the most considerable portion of her adult life dedicated to studying mysticism and theosophy. The Guggenheim Museum is hosting the first major retrospective of her work in the United States, titled “Hilma af Klint: Paintings of the Future.”
Why we picked her: Aware of constraints against female artists who defied cultural mores, Af Klint rarely exhibited her paintings. She was so secretive that she expressly forbade her work from being shown for a period of 20 years after her death, mostly out of concern that none of her contemporaries could grasp or understand her esoteric pieces (it’s this stipulation that inspired the title of her Guggenheim exhibition). In fact, it’s only within the last few decades that art historians and critics have attempted to insert Af Klint into her rightful place in the history of art, placing her years before notable forerunners of abstraction Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.
As fans of Af Klint know, the artist maintained an interest in the occult and was a member of several spiritualist groups, including one dubbed “De Fem,” (“The Five), which comprised four of her closest female friends. Together, the coven meditated and attempted to commune with spirits from other realms, which they called “high masters.” Her chalky geometric paintings were, according to historians, inspired by her interactions with those mysterious beings. In her series “The 10 Largest,” one of the highlights currently on view at the Guggenheim, Af Klint worked with tempura on paper and canvas to create large-scale pieces that represent the stages of life. Colored in yellows and pinks and blues, the immense works pulsate and swirl like cells under a microscope.
“Hilma af Klint: Paintings of the Future” is on view until April 23, 2019. Check out the exhibition website for more details.