Paintings for the temple

Hilma af Klint

Well, I did that the wrong way round.

During the week I caught an exhibition of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, which I posted about recently. There is an impressive scale to both the show and its constituent works, spreading over two floors in extensive groupings from notebooks to large-scale canvasses, from beautiful botanical studies to enormous abstract works which were not exhibited in her lifetime – nor, indeed, for decades after.

But as innovative as these works were, af Klint wasn’t merely discarding figurative representation on a whim. Her paintings were informed by both spiritualism and spirituality, séances and metaphysical contemplation, by a compulsive need to summon the immaterial world through paint. Af Klint’s largest cycle bore the title Paintings for the Temple: art clearly not meant as mere decoration nor – despite their radical abstraction – primarily concerned with forms in themselves. Her works are thoroughly programmatic but the symbolism is often oblique, meaning that as impressive as they are, viewing them becomes a little like hearing beguiling songs in a foreign language, mystifying as much as they entrance.

So, yes, it would have been better if I had seen the video below (click here if you don’t see it embedded) which goes at least some way to explaining what af Klint was driving at. Iris Müller-Westermann, curator of international art at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, describes one of the most remarkable careers of early 20th century art, only now receiving due recognition.

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6 comments

  1. Thanks James, really interesting work and individual.

  2. rudy d

    thanks for sharing the above video on af Klint, it was enlightening to learn more about this artist. Her work was highlighted in the LACMA show “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Paintings 1890-1985” and catalog, a small sampling. Wish I could get to the Moderna Museet to see what looks like a wonderful exhibition.

  3. Thanks for sharing. The work of this artist is amazing.

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