‘Hilma Who?’ No More
Spiritual sparks helped inspire the radical and visionary art of Hilma af Klint, the new (old) name to know. Her work is on view at the Guggenheim.
If you like to hallucinate but disdain the requisite stimulants, spend some time in the Guggenheim Museum’s staggering exhibition, “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future.” The museum’s High Gallery — the name has added resonance in this context — displays the show’s rapturous overture, a series of 10 paintings by af Klint (1862-1944), a little-known Swedish painter, modernist pioneer and erstwhile spiritualist. Collectively titled “The Ten Largest,” they may induce disorientation, not the least for the way they blow open art history.
These game-changing works envelop you in hues from dusty orange to pale pinks and lavenders, tumbling compositions of circles, spirals and pinwheels, and unfurling ribbonlike lines that sometimes form mysterious letters and words. The scale of the motifs and the paintings’ sheer size (10 feet by nearly 9 feet) invite you to step in and float away to the music of the spheres. That they are rendered in tempera on paper, lighter than oil on canvas but still quite painterly, contributes to their levitating power. In their wit, ebullience, multiple references and palette, “The Ten Largest” seem utterly contemporary, made-yesterday fresh. But prepare for label shock: they were created in 1907.
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