Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen at the Serpentine Gallery
Heard of her? Not many have. But they will.
Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was before her time and she knew it. Here is a woman whose work shows studied involvement in spiritualism before Kandinsky, colour before Kupka, abstraction before Mondrian and automatism years before the Surrealists dreamt of the idea. A pioneering member of the avant-garde working in glorious isolation, af Klint was fearful of being misunderstood. Stipulating that her work be kept from the public until 20 years after her death, beautifully kept notebooks tell of preparation for posthumous exhibition.
Here we have it: a beautifully curated collection of af Klint’s decoratively abstract creations. This is not the work’s first outing – that premier took place 40 years after the artist’s death. Since then, af Klint’s name has graced the likes of the Pompidou Centre, Paris (2008) and the Venice Biennale (Central Pavilion, 2013). As the Swedish painter’s name gains renown, the Serpentine has joined the throng eager to celebrate this newly arrived modernist.
The Serpentine Galleries, in collaboration with Moderna Museet (Stockholm), have done an admirable job in presenting af Klint’s work as separate from and yet inextricably linked to the textbook narrative of European Modernism. Flawless wall text clearly annotates the artist’s work without distracting from it. Connections to Rudolph Steiner and esoteric spiritualism, as well as Darwin and the natural sciences, are illuminated. So, too, is the artist’s clear systemisation of her work, in series and catalogues, allowing her an important role in the curation of this exhibition.
Numbed by the incessantly provocative art of the contemporary scene, it’s strange for today’s audience to imagine af Klint anxiously concealing this work. Dynamic in colour and form and mystical in its abstraction, the collection is beguiling. But more interesting than the work itself is the story behind it – a story this exhibition tells with great skill.
Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen is on at the Serpentine Gallery from 3rd March until 15th May 2016, for further information visit here.