The Complete Works of Hilma af Klint Get Published for the First Time in a Beautiful, Seven-Volume Collection

If you are a reg­u­lar Open Cul­ture read­er, you’ve prob­a­bly seen our many posts on Hilma af Klint, the Swedish abstract painter who might have been rec­og­nized, before Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, as the first 20th cen­tu­ry abstrac­tion­ist; that is, if she had shown any of her work before her death in obscu­ri­ty in 1944 (the same year that Kandin­sky died, it hap­pens). Instead, af Klint instruct­ed that her paint­ings not be exhib­it­ed until twen­ty years after her death. Then, anoth­er 22 years went by before any­one would see her enig­mat­ic can­vas­es. They first went on dis­play in a 1986 Los Ange­les show called, after Kandin­sky, “The Spir­i­tu­al in Art.”

Com­par­isons seem inevitable, but where the great Russ­ian abstrac­tion­ist the­o­rized about art and spir­it, af Klint encoun­tered it in per­son, she claimed in her Theo­soph­i­cal accounts, in which she writes of meet­ing five “high mas­ters” in a séance and receiv­ing instruc­tions for her new style. She was a chan­nel, a ves­sel, and a medi­um for the spir­its, as she saw it.

“The pic­tures were paint­ed direct­ly through me, with­out any pre­lim­i­nary draw­ings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paint­ings were sup­posed to depict; nev­er­the­less, I worked swift­ly and sure­ly, with­out chang­ing a sin­gle brush stroke.” She showed her paint­ings to occultist Rudolph Stein­er, who told her to hide them away for the next half cen­tu­ry. Dis­cour­aged she stopped paint­ing for four years.

“Af Klint spent her time tend­ing to her blind, dying moth­er,” writes Dan­ger­ous Minds. “She then returned to paint­ing but kept her­self and more impor­tant­ly her work removed from the world.” She was not in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­er mod­ern artists. She was in con­ver­sa­tion with an unseen world, her own psy­che, and a small group of women with whom she reg­u­lar­ly con­duct­ed séances. Through­out her life, “the pro­lif­ic Swedish artist cre­at­ed more than 1,600 works,” Grace Ebert writes at Colos­sal, “an impres­sive out­put now col­lect­ed in Hilma AF Klint: The Com­plete Cat­a­logue Raison­né: Vol­umes I‑VII.”

The sev­en-vol­ume series, pub­lished by Bok­för­laget Stolpe, “is orga­nized both chrono­log­i­cal­ly and by theme, begin­ning with the spir­i­tu­al sketch­es af Klint made in con­junc­tion with The Five, a group of women who attend­ed séances in hopes of obtain­ing mes­sages from the dead.” “What makes [af Klint’s] art inter­est­ing,” says Daniel Birn­baum, co-edi­tor of the col­lec­tion, “is that the works are high­ly inter­con­nect­ed.” Such a com­pre­hen­sive account­ing, a “cat­a­logue raison­né,” is nec­es­sary “to see the dif­fer­ent cycles, motifs, and sym­bols that recur in a fas­ci­nat­ing way.”

We see such recur­ring pat­terns in the work of af Klint’s avant-garde con­tem­po­raries, as well, of course, espe­cial­ly in her very famous con­tem­po­rary Kandin­sky. But who knows how her eso­teric sources and extreme­ly retir­ing nature would have been received by the avant-garde move­ments of her time? Giv­en that even the most extro­vert­ed women artists in those movements—from Dada, to Sur­re­al­ism, to the Bauhaus School, to Abstract Expres­sion­ism—have been left out of the sto­ry time and again, it’s like­ly that even had the world known of Hilma af Klint in life, she would not have been appre­ci­at­ed or well-remem­bered.

But whether we cred­it the actions of “high mas­ters” or the arbi­trary asyn­chronies of cul­tur­al his­to­ry, it’s clear af Klint’s moment has final­ly arrived. For “the first time,” Art­net notes, her “daz­zling spir­i­tu­al oeu­vre…. will be pre­sent­ed in its total­i­ty.”

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Life & Art of Hilma Af Klint: A Short Art His­to­ry Les­son on the Pio­neer­ing Abstract Artist

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

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

The Female Pio­neers of the Bauhaus Art Move­ment: Dis­cov­er Gertrud Arndt, Mar­i­anne Brandt, Anni Albers & Oth­er For­got­ten Inno­va­tors

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

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