A Review of Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future

By Julie Hamon, FCLC 2019

I recently visited the Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, (on view until April 23, 2019), and was amazed by the sheer amount and variety of af Klint’s featured artworks. I was initially interested in visiting the exhibition because I had seen selected pieces of Hilma af Klint’s work for the first time at the New Museum two years ago. The artist’s brightly colored and geometrically structured paintings (the works at the New Museum consisting mostly of centered circles and color wheels) left an impression on me, and I was excited to explore more of her work at the Guggenheim. Before my visit, I had been following the museum’s marketing for the exhibition, in which it prominently features one significant gallery housing af Klint’s series of paintings titled The Ten Largest. It was an incredible experience to arrive at the museum and discover that the Hilma af Klint exhibition inhabited the entire Guggenheim rotunda beyond that one gallery, with countless works covering each wall and filling a number of display cases. It became overwhelmingly apparent how prolific Hilma af Klint was throughout her artistic career. As I ascended the rotunda walkway, I gained a better sense of the evolution of af Klint’s artistic style and practice, a practice that maintained a rather singular aura despite experimentation. Her paintings and drawings appear deeply psychological, dreamy, optically stimulating, and richly hued. When I learned that she channeled the spiritual realm as part of her process, I felt that I came to more fully understand the artistic direction, abstract meanings, and experience she intended for her work.

Photograph taken by Julie Hamon of Group IX/UW, The Dove, No. 13. Oil on canvas, 1915.
Detail of Group IX/UW, The Dove, No. 13

My favorite painting in the exhibition was Group IX/SUW The Swan, No. 1, painted in 1915. The painting features two swans in flight: one white on a black background, and the other black on a white background, the swans’ beaks and feet featuring vibrant pops of color. Hilma af Klint divided the painting into these two opposites at its center, the birds’ beaks and the tips of their wings gently touching at the center line. Their bodies mirror each other in dynamic movement. A graceful tension reverberates from the central dividing line and meeting point, highlighting the sense of a simultaneous unity and opposition between the birds and their spaces. Perhaps the reason why this painting struck me is that its semblance of a story and its composition revolves around highly organic, almost naturalistic forms within an abstract space. We do not see the quintessential Hilma af af Klint spirals or geometric shapes in this painting, yet the painting still remains so characteristic of the artist in its dramatic use of strong color, balanced structure, and a sense of spiritual and meditative meaning.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, and am intrigued to see where Hilma af Klint’s art and legacy travel in the future, and the growing recognition she will receive as a result. I believe this exhibition will have the important impact of placing Hilma af Klint’s name, life, and work in the art history textbooks of the future as an extremely important figure in modern art.

Photograph taken by Julie Hamon of Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 1. Oil on canvas, 1915.

Bibliography

Horowitz, David Max. “”The World Keeps You in Fetters; Cast Them Aside”: Hilma Af Klint, Spiritualism, and Agency.” In Hilma Af Klint: Paintings for the Future, by Tracey Bashkoff, 128-33. New York, NY: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2018.

Cover image is a panoramic photograph taken by Julie Hamon of Group IV, The Ten Largest. Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas, 1907.

Spread the word