Hilma af Klint and the new history of art
14 Mar 2018, 11:21 am
Now and then, a hurricane comes by that makes us notice that history is not as linear as we imagine. The recent discovery of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint’s work shook the pillars of art history and generated uncertainties regarding the true origin of abstract art: the artist’s works show that she produced abstract creations even before the great masters. In Brazil, Hilma receives her first, and well-deserved, solo exhibition at Pinacoteca do Estado which, besides all the controversy, also reviews a very rich universe of paintings – and extremely particular.
“Hilma af Klint: Possible Worlds” includes 130 drawings and paintings that, according to German native Jochen Volz, director of Pinacoteca, “confuses the artistic scenario even more, after Brazilian art already made the world question the American or European vision about the history of art worldwide”. Born in 1862, Hilma studied painting, philosophy and religion, in addition to being an excellent mathematician and also an appreciator of sciences like biology, physics and geometry. Until age 44, her figurative production demonstrated a very detailed technique and her paintings were sold to one or another collector. But it was for her secret production that the already quadragenarian (in the beginning of the 20th century, her age was already considered old!) dedicated all her attention to: she painted during psychography sessions. Her works today show that the result of this were abstract paintings produced even before giants like Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich.
“In her notes, she says she did not show her works because this was what the entities suggested. But, clearly, for a woman artist at that time, if she told that her painting was the result of instructions received from high spirits, she would probably be institutionalized,” says Jochen, with the enthusiasm of a curator proud about his exhibition. Discretion also led Hilma to write in her will that the boxes and rolls containing her works could only be opened 20 years after her death – which occurred in 1944.
The 1,400 works and another 26 thousand notes that were revealed in the 1960s show organic forms, the colors and the correspondences with feelings according to a dictionary created by her, the lexicon of a new vocabulary, spiritual and philosophical treaties and even drawings of atoms that, at the time they were made, earned their first representations by physicists like Niels Bohr.
After a few negatives from museums that did not see relevance in the recent discovery, Hilma’s nephews opened a foundation and obtained support from a few groups in Sweden to organize her legacy. It was only in 1986 that the so-called “automatic drawings” participated for the first time in an exhibit – “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1850-1985”, at LACMA in Los Angeles. “In 2013, MoMA did an exhibit on abstraction and spirituality but did not include Hilma. For the museum it was difficult, because it would have to rewrite, or at least question, history.”
Jochen Volz, however, already knew about the Swedish native’s production for many years. Since 2000, he’s worked with Daniel Birnbaum, director of the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, who several times mentioned the artist’s geniality. Together, the curators were responsible for events like the 2009 Venice Biennale and partnered in organizing the exhibit at the Pinacoteca.
For the curator, the series “The Ten Largest” is, without a doubt, the main masterpiece of the exhibition. Measuring more than 3 meters high, the colorful paintings full of details represent the different phases of human life – childhood, youth, maturity and old age – in the room where the exhibition begins, with the breathtaking set up. To create the paintings that were twice her height, Hilma used scaffolding and a countless number of eggs to producer her paints. But the artist did not need more than 40 days to conclude the project.
Hilma founded the group De Fem (The Five) with four other women who also studied spirituality and used psychography to produce texts and poems. “She knew she was producing research and work for a future generation,” says Jochen. The friends met every Friday for 10 years and Hilma was the last to leave the group. In “Series II – the series of religions”, Hilma also expresses her thoughts about religious syncretism and cosmovisions in representing eight religions of the world, simply drawing circles.
“Who comes across her once never let’s go,” jokes Jochen. In Sweden alone, a minimum of five doctorates are currently being made about the artist. In Brazil, researcher Luciana Ventre – whose text is in the exhibition catalogue – will also be launching a biography about Hilma in the next few months. One thing is for sure now: her production will never be forgotten again.
“Hilma af Klint: Possible Worlds”
Pinacoteca de São Paulo
Praça da Luz, 2
Wednesday to Monday, 10am-6pm
Until July 16