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11.03.2014 BACKGROUND

Hilma af Klint: Group IV, No. 5. No. 6 & No. 7 The Ten Largest, 
Adulthood, Adulthood & Adulthood (Installation view), 1907, 321 × 237 cm, 315 × 234 cm & 315 × 235 cm, Tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction

The dawn of the 21. century has seen an increasing interest in spiritual matters within contemporary art. In a Danish context artists like e.g. Joachim Koester and Lea Porsager have in recent works made spiritual matters their subject matter. The main exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale, The Encyclopedic Palace curated by Massimiliano Gioni, among others showed pieces by famous esotericist Rudolf Steiner and Swedish artist and practicing spiritualist Hilma af Klint.

AF Henrik Grundsted

LOUISIANA
Gl. Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk W: louisiana.dk
Hilma af Klint - Abstrakt pioner
Hilma af Klint
Kurator: Iris Müller-Westermann, Jo Widoff
07.03.2014 - 06.07.2014

The current exhibition at Louisiana Hilma af Klint - A pioneer of Abstraction is the first major exhibition of Hilma af Klints works though she has been included in various group shows - e.g. Mod Lyset at Gl. Holtegaard (2004).
Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was until recently relatively unknown to the art history, partly due to the artist herself, as she didn't want any of her "spiritual" works to be exhibited before 20 years after her death. 

From a dusty store away to international fame
The first presentation of Hilma af Klints "spiritual works" was the exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 at LACMA Los Angeles 1986. Here Hilma af Klints works were shown along with the pioneers of abstract  painting: Mondrian, Kandinsky, Kupka and Malevich. But as it were Hilma af Klints ascent to the parnassus of modern art did not happen without some outcry from critics.       

"Af Klint's paintings are essentially colored diagrams. To accord them a place of honor alongside the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich and Kupka, in the section of the exhibition devoted to the pioneers of abstraction, is absurd. Af Klint is simply not an artist in their class, and - dare one say it? - would never have been given this inflated treatment if she had not been a woman" (Kramer, Hilton On "The Spiritual in Art" in Los Angeles, New Criterion 1987).

It is worth noting that even though Hilma af Klint had common interests with Mondrian and Kandinsky in spiritual matters like theosophy, her arrival at abstract painting seem to differ from the celebrated fathers of abstraction. She was not preoccupied with the formal problems of painting as such. Rather she was on an inner quest to make herself a medium for depicting invisible and otherworldly realities. Her works contained both figurative, symbolic and abstract elements, as the artist was mainly focused on conveying her spiritual message - the paper and the canvas being the medium connecting the tangible world with the intangible. 

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Iris Müller-Westermann, curator at Moderna Museet: Hilma af Klint - Abstakt Pionjär (English subtitles)

The Paintings for the Temple
Hilma af Klint worked in series. Each series is made up by a body of works where the same subject is treated in numerous ways often both figurative and abstract: e.g. in the series The Swan a white swan is contrasted by a black swan (The Swan, No 1, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series, 1915), where other paintings in the same series consist of strictly abstract works - like The Swan, No 17 (Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series, 1915) where a circular color scale is contrasted by a red monochrome background. 

The centre piece of the exhibition is the series The Paintings for the Temple (1906-1915). According to Hilma af Klint this body of work (made of 193 large format paintings) was made by the artist in a mediumistic trance where "ascended high masters" guided her hand. In her own words:

“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 brushstroke.”

The Paintings for the Temple consists of the series: Primordial Chaos, The Tree of Knowledge, The Swan, The Dove, The Ten Largest and Alter-pieces. The latter being a triptych that according to Hilma af Klint sums up all the other works. 

Hilma af Klint - an outsider in modern art
"Art brut" denote art produced in social seclusion, away from art schools, galleries and the art world as such. "Art brut" is the contradistinction to cultural art - the art celebrated by art history. It is therefore defined as non art often produced by self-taught artist, mentally challenged individuals, or as in the case of Hilma af Klint by "mediumistic-painters". The surrealists where attracted to "Art brut" and the term was fathered by Jean Dubuffet who found this kind of art to be more authentic than cultural art:

"Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade." — Jean Dubuffet. Place à l'incivisme (Make way for Incivism) in Art and Text no.27 (December 1987 – February 1988), p.36. 

Hilma af Klints body of "spiritual" works now exhibited at Louisiana were certainly produced without worries of competition and from an original creative and spiritual impulse. The works where produced in secrecy and Hilma af Klint stipulated in her will that her "spiritual" paintings where not to be exhibited before 20 years after her death.

Now 70 years after her death her works are getting much acknowledgement from established art institutions. Her travelling retrospective has apart from Louisiana and Moderna Museet (Stockholm) been shown at The Picasso Museum (Malaga) and at Hamburger Bahnhof (Berlin).    

Hilma af Klint biography
Hilma af Klint was part of the first generation of women that was allowed to attend art schools in Sweden. She was trained at The Technical School (Konstfack), and from 1882-87 she was trained in portraiture at The Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm.

After graduating she continued painting landscapes and portraits in the academic style, but parallel to this she was attracted to spiritualism and attended séances. From 1896 she started practicing automatic writing which later developed into automatic drawing.

In her spiritual/artistic quest she joined forces with four other women to form a group they called The Five. Hilma af Klint also took the role as medium in this group. 
Several automatic drawings made during séances by The Five are on display at Louisiana, and some of the motifs from these later return in Hilma af Klints extensive cycle of paintings, such as the snail, the lily, and the rose. In this period Hilma af Klint moved away from spiritualism towards theosophy. Theosophy talked about "ascended masters" that was said to have inspired the founder of theosophy Helena Blavatsky to write her visionary books on matters like the spiritual evolution of the world.
In 1905 Hilma af Klint accepted the commission by such an "ascended master" named Amaliel to produce The Paintings for the Temple. She worked on the cycle from 1905-1915.

In 1908 Hilma af Klint met with Rudolf Steiner (then head of the German section of the Theosophical Society) and similar to Steiner himself she would later make another transition from theosophy to anthroposophy. Steiner was skeptical about the method of working as a medium, and after their meeting Hilma af Klint changed her approach as a "mediumistic-painter". There after her "hand was no longer guided; instead Hilma af Kint was presented images and her own interpretation entered into the paintings to a greater degree than before" (Westermann 2013).
Hilma af Klint later gave up painting and turned to watercolors, some of these are also on display at Louisiana - e.g. the series On the Viewing of Flowers and Trees, 1922.

Further reading:
Tine Colstrup: Hilma af Klint, p. 40-50 in Louisiana Magasin No39, November 2013
Lynn 
GamwellExploring the invisible - Art, science and the spiritual, Princeton University Press 2002

Iris Müller-Westermann (ed.): Hilma af Klint - A pioneer of Abstraction, Moderna Museet 2013
Henrik Wivel: Purpurpunktet in Thange, Jacob (red.) Mod lyset (p. 9-14), Gl. Holtegaard/Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum 2004

Henrik Wivel: Det metafysiske maleri, Weekendavisen, 30 august 2007

Online:

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Hilma Af Klint: Wie von Geisterhand Geführ - Gertrud Sandqvist @ Summer Academy 2010. Internationale Sommerakademie für Bildende Kunste Salzburg

Hilton Kramer: On "The Spiritual in Art" in Los Angeles, New Criterion 1987
Mikkel Carl: The (Encyclopedic) Palace, Kopenhagen
Vitra Design Museum: Rudolf Steiner - Alchemy of the Everyday

Hilma af Klint: Group IV, No. 2. No. 3 & No. 4 The Ten Largest, 
Childhood, Youth & Youth, 1907, 315 × 234 cm, 321 × 240 cm & 315 × 234 cm, Tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IV, No. 9 & No. 10 The Ten Largest, 
Old Age & Old Age (Installation view), 1907, 321 × 237 cm, 315 × 234 cm & 315 × 235 cm, Tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, Primordial Chaos (Installation view), 1906-1907, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 1, No.2 & No. 3, Primordial Chaos, 1906, 53 × 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 23, No. 24 & No. 25, Primordial Chaos, 1906-1907, 53 × 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 5 & No. 6, Primordial Chaos, 1906-1907, 53 x 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 14 & No. 15, Primordial Chaos, 1906, 53 × 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 16 & No. 17, Primordial Chaos, 1906-1907, 53 × 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The WU/Rose Series, Group I, No. 7 & No. 8, Primordial Chaos, 1906-1907, 53 × 37 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group III, No. 5. The Large Figure Paintings, The Key to All Works to Date, 1907, 150 × 118 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VIII, No. 2, 1913, 72.5 × 53.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VIII, No. 5, 1913, 155.5 × 114 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VIII, No. 6, 1913, 152.5 × 115.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 1. Evolution, 1908, 102.5 × 134.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 2. Evolution, 1908, 100 × 131.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 4. Evolution, 1908, 104 × 133.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 9. Evolution, 1908, 101 × 131.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 12. Evolution, 1908, 102 × 133 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Svanen, 1915. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: The Swan, No. 8, 1915, 152.5 × 149 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Svanen, 1915. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/SUW, No. 16. The Swan, No. 16, 1915, 154.5 × 151 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/SUW, No. 13. The Swan, No. 13, 1915, 148.5 × 151 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group VI, No. 12. Evolution, 1908, 99 × 130 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/SUW, No. 21. The Swan, No. 21, 1915, 153 × 153 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/SUW, No. 19. The Swan, No. 19, 1915, 148.5 × 152 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/SUW, No. 23. The Swan, No. 23, 1915, 152.5 × 150 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 27, The Dove, No. 3, 1915, 155.5 × 115.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 38, The Dove, No. 14, 1915, 154 × 128.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Altarpieces, Group X, No. 1. No. 2 & No. 3 Altarpiece, 1915, 237.5 × 179.5 cm, Oil and metal leaf on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Alterbillede, nr. 3, 1915. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Barndommen, 1907. Foto: Albin Dahlström. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Ungdommen, 1907. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Voksenlivet, 1907. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Spring Landscape – 
Scene from the Bay of Lomma, 1892, 34.5 × 100 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Private Collection.

Hilma af Klint: Alterbillede, nr. 1, 1915. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

Hilma af Klint: Alterbillede, nr. 2, 1915. Foto: Albin Dahlström, Moderna Museet Stockholm. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

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