Discover Hilma af Klint: Pioneering Mystical Painter and Perhaps the First Abstract Artist

In a post last year, Colin Marshall wrote of the Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint, who “developed abstract imagery,” notes Sweden’s Moderna Museet, “several years before” contemporaries like Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Kazimir Malevich. Much like Kandinsky, who articulated his theories in the treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, af Klint “assumed that there was a spiritual dimension to life and aimed at visualizing context beyond what the eye can see.” Influenced by spiritualism and theosophy, she “sought to understand and communicate the various dimensions of human existence.”

Born in 1862 and raised in the Swedish countryside, af Klint began her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm after her family relocated to the city. “After graduating and until 1908,” Moderna Museet writes, “she had a studio at Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm.




She painted and exhibited portraits and landscapes in a naturalist style.” But as a result of her experiences in séances in the late 1870s, af Klint became interested in “invisible phenomena.”

In 1896, Hilma af Klint and four other women formed the group “De Fem” [The Five]. They made contact with “high masters” from another dimension, and made meticulous notes on their séances. This led to a definite change in Hilma af Klint’s art. She began practising automatic writing, which involves writing without consciously guiding the movement of the pen on the paper. She developed a form of automatic drawing, predating the surrealists by decades. Gradually, she eschewed her naturalist imagery, in an effort to free herself from her academic training. She embarked on an inward journey, into a world that is hidden from most people.

During one such séance, in 1904, af Klint reported that she had “received a ‘commission,’” Kate Kellaway writes at The Guardian, “from an entity named Amaliel who told her to paint on ‘an astral plane’ and represent the ‘immortal aspects of man.’” From 1906 to 1915, she produced 193 paintings, “an astonishing outpouring,” which she called “Paintings for the Temple.”

Hers is a strange story. Even in a time when many famous contemporaries, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, professed similar beliefs and spiritual practices, not many claimed to be taking dictation directly from spirits in their work. The question af Klint raises for art historians is whether she was “a quirky outsider” or “Europe’s first abstract painter, central to the history of abstract art.” Her mystical eccentricities constitute a large part of the reason she has remained obscure for so long. Rather than seek fame and acclaim for her originality, af Klint stipulated when she died in 1944 at age 81 that “her work—1,200 paintings, 100 texts and 26,000 pages of notes—should not be shown until 20 years after her death.”

Still, it took a further 22 years before her work was seen in public, at a 1986 Los Angeles show called “The Spiritual in Art.” While her peers developed large followings in their lifetimes and took part in influential movements, af Klint cultivated a private, insular world all her own, not unlike that of William Blake, who also remained mostly obscure during his life, though not necessarily by choice. Her choice to hide her work came out of an early encounter, Dangerous Minds notes, with Rudolf Steiner, “who was similarly following a path towards creating a synthesis between the scientific and the spiritual” and who told her “these paintings must not be seen for fifty years as no one would understand them.”

Now that af Klint’s work has been exhibited in full, most recently by the Moderna Museet, curators like Iris Müller-Westermann believe, as Kellawy notes, “that art-historical wrangles should not get in the way of work that needs to be seen.” Although af Klint may not have played an integral historical role in the development of abstract painting, her expansive body of work will likely inspire artists, scholars, and esoteric seekers for centuries to come.

Learn more about af Klint’s work at Moderna Museet, the Hilma af Klint Foundation website, The Art Story and Dangerous Minds.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Believer Magazine Has Put Its Entire Archive Online for Free

Founded in 2003, The Believer magazine gained a reputation for being an off-beat literary magazine with a commitment “to journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank and also very long.” Founded by authors Vendela Vida, Ed Park and Heidi Julavits, and originally published Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, The Believer has featured contributions by Nick Hornby, Anne Carson, William T. Vollmann; columns by Amy Sedaris and Greil Marcus; and also interviews--like this one where director Errol Morris talks with filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Now published by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las VegasThe Believer has entered a new era. It has launched a brand new web site and made its 15-year archive freely available online. It's a first for the publication. Enter the archive of the "highbrow but delightfully bizarre" magazine here.

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Read 1,000 Editions of The Village Voice: A Digital Archive of the Iconic New York City Paper

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An Asbestos-Bound, Fireproof Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Even by the extreme standards of dystopian fiction, the premise of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 can seem a little absurd. Firemen whose job is to set fires? A society that bans all books? Written less than a decade after the fall of the Third Reich, which announced its evil intentions with book burnings, the novel explicitly evokes the kind of totalitarianism that seeks to destroy culture—and whole peoples—with fire. But not even the Nazis banned all books. Not a few academics and writers survived or thrived in Nazi Germany by hewing to the ideological orthodoxy (or at least not challenging it), which, for all its terrifying irrationalism, kept up some semblance of an intellectual veneer.

The novel also recalls the Soviet variety of state repression. But the Party apparatus also allowed a publishing industry to operate, under its strict constraints. Nonetheless, Soviet censorship is legendary, as is the survival of banned literature through self-publishing and memorization, vividly represented by the famous line in Mikhail Bulgokov’s The Master and Margarita, “Manuscripts don’t burn.”




Bulgakov, writes Nathaniel Rich at Guernica, is saying that “great literature… is fireproof. It survives its critics, its censors, and even the passage of time.” Bulgakov wrote from painful experience. When his diary was discovered by the NKVD in 1929, then returned to him, he “promptly burned it.” Sometime afterward, during the long composition of his posthumously published novel, he burned the manuscript, then later reconstructed it from memory.

These examples bring to mind the exiled intellectuals in Bradbury’s novel, who have memorized whole books in order to one day reconstruct literary culture. Europe’s totalitarian regimes provide essential background for the novel’s plot and imagery, but its key context, Bradbury himself noted in a 1956 radio interview, was the anti-Communist paranoia of the U.S. in the early 1950s. “Too many people were afraid of their shadows,” he said, “there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.” Reading the novel as a chilling vision of a future when all books are banned and burned makes the artifact pictured above particularly poignant—an edition of Fahrenheit 451 bound in fireproof asbestos.

Released in 1953 by Ballantine in a limited run of two-hundred signed copies, the books were “bound in Johns-Manville Qinterra,” notes Lauren Davis at io9, “a chrysolite asbestos material.” Now the fireproof covers, with their “exceptional resistance to pyrolysis,” are “much sought after by collectors” and go for upwards of $20,000. A fireproof Fahrenheit 451, on the one hand, can seem a little gimmicky (its pages still burn, after all). But it’s also the perfect manifestation of a literal interpretation of the novel as a story about banning and book burning. All of us who have read the novel have likely read it this way, as a vision of a repressive totalitarian nightmare. As such, it feels like a product of mid-twentieth century fears.

Rather than fearing mass book burnings, we seem, in the 21st century, on the verge of being washed away in a sea of information (and dis- and mis-information). We are inundated with writing—in print and online—such that some of us despair of ever finding time to read the accumulating piles of books and articles that daily surround us, physically and virtually. But although books are still published in the millions, with sales rising, falling, then rising again, the number of people who actually read seems in danger of rapidly diminishing. And this, Bradbury also said, was his real fear. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” he claimed, “just get people to stop reading them.”

We’ve misread Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury told us in his later years. It is an allegory, a symbolic representation of a grossly dumbed-down society, hugely oppressive and destructive in its own way. The firemen are not literal government agents but symbolic of the forces of mass distraction, which disseminate "factoids," lies, and half-truths as substitutes for knowledge. The novel, he said, is actually about people “being turned into morons by TV.” Add to this the proliferating amusements of the online world, video games, etc. and we can see Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 not as a dated representation of 40s fascism or 50s repression, but as a too-relevant warning to a distractible society that devalues and destroys education and factual knowledge even as we have more access than ever to literature of every kind.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meet Sergei Parajanov, the Filmmaker Persecuted & Imprisoned by the Soviets, and Championed by Tarkovsky, Fellini, Godard, Buñuel, and Others

"Whoever tries to imitate me is lost," said the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Parajanov. Not so long ago, whoever tried to imitate him would also be in deep trouble. Persecuted by the Soviet authorities for the "subversive" nature of both his work and his lifestyle, he spent four years of the 1970s in a Siberian hard-labor camp. Nothing could speak more highly to his artistry than the fact that, even before his sentencing, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a letter in his defense. "Artistically, there are few people in the entire world who could replace Parajanov," argued the director of Mirror and Stalker. "He is guilty – guilty of his solitude. We are guilty of not thinking of him daily and of failing to discover the significance of a master."

Alas, Tarkovsky's protestations fell on deaf ears, as did those of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and other creators besides. Parajanov had earned their respect with two features, 1965's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and 1969's The Color of Pomegranates, clips of which you can see here.




The powers that be actually looked kindly on the former, praising its poetic adaptation of a classic novel by Ukranian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. But the latter, a life of the 18th-century Armenian singer Sayat-Nova (the Georgia-born director was himself of Armenian heritage), seems to have gone too far in its break from the state-approved style of Socialist realism in which Parajanov once worked.

"Even when he was released, Parajanov was 'silenced,' as he said," writes Messy Nessy. "He tried to get back on his movie making, but struggled for another ten years until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1980s. When he died in 1990 at only 66, he left his final work unfinished, leaving the world to wonder what other visions of his were lost to time." As the world has since slowly rediscovered the visions Parajanov did realize, his influence has here and there made itself felt. "I believe you have to be born a director," he says in the interview clip above. "A director can't be trained, not even in film school." Directing, to his mind, "is basically the truth, transformed into images: sorrow, hope, love, beauty." And as all those respected auteurs understood, no other filmmaker has ever seen the truth quite like he did.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How to Build a Custom Handcrafted Acoustic Guitar from Start to Finish: The Process Revealed in a Fascinating Documentary

Every serious guitarist learns to set up, repair, and maybe even customize their own instruments. It’s economical and fun and gives players insight into how and why their instruments sound the way they do, and how to make them sound better. Some amateur luthiers will even build their own instruments, at least those not famous enough to have custom guitars built for them by famous makers, an honor—maybe not unlike a basketball player having their own shoes—that tells the world they’re at the top of the game.

Everyone else labors away in basements, garages, and woodworking shops, leaning heavily on advice from master luthiers like Dan Erlewine. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have the space, tools, and know-how to make your own guitars, then the video above from Montreal-based master builder Michael Greenfield of Greenfield Guitars is for you. It shows every step in the process of his custom built acoustic guitars, and along the way shows you how you can build your own.




Electric guitars derive their sound from magnetic pickups, which can be affixed to everything from oil cans to plexiglass. Materials and workmanship can majorly affect tone and sustain, but not nearly to the degree they do in an acoustic guitar, in which the sound comes entirely from the instrument itself—from its shape, size, bracing style, wood selection, and even, believe it or not, the finish. The shaping, carving, and joining of each of the guitar’s structural parts—sides, top, back, and neck—makes its own unique contribution to the finished instrument's tone.

Greenfield’s documentary isn’t only for the amateur—or professional, for that matter—luthier. It’s also an all-around fascinating look at how fine, hand-crafted acoustic guitars get made, of interest to anyone from woodworkers to sound engineers to music fans in general. Most consumer-grade guitars get an assembly-line factory build, turned out by the thousands to keep superstores like Guitar Center stocked. Master builders like Greenfield devote considerable time and attention to every individual instrument—the process documented here for a single guitar, he tells us, took place over a period of four to five months.

Want to hear the finished product? Skip ahead to 57:47 for a demonstration by Canadian Celtic-folk singer Lizzy Hoyt. Learn more about Michael Greenfield’s handcrafted guitars at greenfieldguitars.com.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Every Cover of MAD Magazine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Covers from the Satirical Publication

For 65 years and counting, the pages of Mad magazine have entertained readers by satirizing all the cultural items, social fads, news items, and political issues of the moment. Throughout that span of time the covers of Mad magazine have done the same, except that they've entertained everyone, even those who've never opened an issue, whether they want it or not. Though on one level designed purely as disposable visual gags, Mad's covers collectively provide a satirical history of America, and one you can easily browse at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site, "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

Gilford started the site back in 1997, a year that saw Mad's covers take on such phenomena as The X-Files, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi, and Seinfeld. That last seizes the presumably irresistible opportunity to draw Jerry Seinfeld scowling in irritation at "Neuman" — not his nemesis-neighbor Newman, but Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who appears in one form or another on almost all of the magazine's covers.




These sort of antics had already been going on for quite some time, as evidenced, for instance, by the June 1973 cover above in which Neuman dons a Droog outfit to take the place of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — or, in Mad's, view, A Crockwork Lemon.

To see the archive's covers in a large format, you need only scroll to the desired year, click on the issue number, and then click on the image that appears. (Alternatively, those with advanced Mad knowledge can simply pick an issue number from the pull-down "Select-a-Mad" menu at the top of the page.) Gilford keeps the site updated with covers right up to the latest issue: number three, as of this writing, since the magazine "rebooted" this past June as it relocated its offices from New York to California. Recent targets have included Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump, and, of course, Donald TrumpMad's longevity may be surprising, but it certainly doesn't look like America will stop providing the ridiculousness on which it has always survived any time soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

New York Public Library Card Now Gives You Free Access to 33 NYC Museums

If you're one of the 8.5 million people living in New York City, take note of this: When you sign up for a library card from the New York Public Library, you can get access to 30,000 free movies (including many from the Criterion Collection) and also some 300,000 Free eBooks. But that's not all. A new initiative lets members of the New York Public Library (plus the Brooklyn and Queens libraries) to sign up for a Culture Pass and thereby gain free entrance to 33 museums across NYC. The list of participating museums includes some big ones--the Met, Morgan, Whitney, Frick and Guggenheim. Also the MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and more. Find a complete list below.

The Culture Pass website has more information about this new program. The website is also where you will need to actually make reservations to visit the museums. According to Hyperallergic, "Each cardholder is eligible for one pass per cultural institution annually and allowed to reserve two impending visits at any given time."

New Yorkers, you can sign up for library cards via these links: New York Public Library, Brooklyn Library, and Queens Library.

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Participating Museums

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Brooklyn Children's Museum
  • Brooklyn Historical Society
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Children's Museum of Manhattan
  • Children's Museum of the Arts
  • Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • The Drawing Center
  • The Frick Collection
  • Historic Richmond Town
  • International Center of Photography
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
  • The Jewish Museum
  • Louis Armstrong House
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1
  • Museum of Chinese in America
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • New York Transit Museum
  • Noguchi Museum
  • Queens Historical Society
  • Queens Museum
  • Rubin Museum of Art
  • SculptureCenter
  • Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
  • Society of Illustrators
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Sugar Hill Children's Museum
  • Wave Hill
  • Whitney Museum of American Art

via Hyperallergic

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