New Hilma af Klint Documentary Explores the Life & Art of the Trailblazing Abstract Artist

It’s not often an entire chap­ter of art his­to­ry text­books needs rewrit­ing, but as fans of Hilma af Klint see it, one such time has come. A Swedish artist and mys­tic who lived from the mid-19th to the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, af Klint left behind a body of work amount­ing to more than 1,200 paint­ings — all of which she insist­ed not be tak­en out of stor­age until 20 years after her death. She sus­pect­ed the pub­lic would­n’t be ready for them before then, and she was more right than she knew: offered the paint­ings as a dona­tion in the 1970s, Stock­holm’s Mod­er­na Museet turned them down. Only in the fol­low­ing decade did the art his­to­ry world begin to under­stand that, far from just a pro­duc­tive ama­teur paint­ing in obscu­ri­ty, af Kint might be the very first abstract artist.

Today af Klin­t’s abstract paint­ings, the first of which she pro­duced in mid­dle-age in 1906, have appre­ci­a­tors all over the world. Some, we’d like to think, came because of all the times we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured her here on Open Cul­ture; oth­ers were brought in by the Guggen­heim’s recent ret­ro­spec­tive Hilma af Klint: Paint­ings for the Future.

These paint­ings, says the muse­um’s web site, “were like lit­tle that had been seen before: bold, col­or­ful, and unteth­ered from any rec­og­niz­able ref­er­ences to the phys­i­cal world. It was years before Vasi­ly Kandin­skyKaz­imir Male­vichPiet Mon­dri­an, and oth­ers would take sim­i­lar strides to rid their own art­work of rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al con­tent.” This year the sto­ry of af Klint and her work is told cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly in Beyond the Vis­i­ble, a new doc­u­men­tary by Ger­man film­mak­er Hali­na Dyrsch­ka whose trail­er appears at the top of the post.

In his review of the filmNew York Times crit­ic A.O. Scott briefly recounts af Klin­t’s ear­ly years: “Born in 1862 to an aris­to­crat­ic Swedish fam­i­ly and raised part­ly on the grounds of the mil­i­tary acad­e­my where her father was an instruc­tor, she trained at the Roy­al Acad­e­my of Fine Arts in Stock­holm, mas­ter­ing the tra­di­tion­al gen­res of por­trait, still life and land­scape. By the late 1880s, her note­books and paint­ings began incor­po­rat­ing forms that, while they some­times evoked nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­na (like snail shells, flower petals and insect wings), did not resem­ble any­thing in the vis­i­ble world.” This change in the artist’s aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty came along with her grow­ing inter­est in mys­ti­cism and ways of access­ing a realm beyond human sens­es. (She even offered a paint­ing to the Anthro­po­soph­i­cal Soci­ety founder Rudolf Stein­er, who reject­ed it.)

Scott calls Beyond the Vis­i­ble “a chap­ter in the whole­sale revi­sion of the crit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal record that began only recent­ly, and it enlists a pas­sion­ate and knowl­edge­able cadre of cura­tors, schol­ars, sci­en­tists and artists to press the argu­ment for af Klint’s impor­tance.” But “the paint­ings them­selves are the best evi­dence — even through the medi­a­tion of a home screen, their vibran­cy, wit and for­mal com­mand is thrilling.” With many movie the­aters tem­porar­i­ly shut down by the coro­n­avirus epi­dem­ic, you can watch the doc­u­men­tary through Kino Mar­quee’s “vir­tu­al cin­e­ma,” a ser­vice that streams over the inter­net but also sup­ports local art hous­es. Most of us may be no clos­er to the unseen world into which af Klint yearned to tap than were any of her every­day com­pa­tri­ots. But as far as his­tor­i­cal moments in which her work and life can find a fas­ci­nat­ed audi­ence, there’s nev­er been a bet­ter one.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

A Short Video Intro­duc­tion to Hilma af Klint, the Mys­ti­cal Female Painter Who Helped Invent Abstract Art

Who Paint­ed the First Abstract Paint­ing?: Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky? Hilma af Klint? Or Anoth­er Con­tender?

Steve Mar­tin on How to Look at Abstract Art

An Inter­ac­tive Social Net­work of Abstract Artists: Kandin­sky, Picas­so, Bran­cusi & Many More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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