Art

Meditation: The Art of Hilma af Klint

tl;dr?! No worries. Take a break or move along and don’t forget to fall back. Daylight Savings Time reminds us that time is a man-made construct.


The photography is all my own and I don’t know the proper names for any of the artworks here so where is, as is.

October 2018 – Hilda af Klint artwork at the Guggenheim. Viva would have titled this ‘Self-Portrait.’ It looks like a swirly thinking head wearing a power suit. And red? Oh, we are all in!

Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim

Monday, October 21, 2019 – The New York Times published the article “In Search of Hilms af Klint, Who Upended Art History, But Left Few Traces” by Andrew Ferren and we were all in our excitement when we saw the article because for once we could relate! Hilma af Klint was the featured exhibit at the Guggenheim when we tripped through New York. Although I was there to cross a visit to the Guggenheim off my list of must-sees, it is the artwork of Ms. af Klint that sticks to me. She viewed her art and its creation with a context bigger than the immediate now. Her posthumous success gives me pause and so many questions.

As we sit here in our little bleacher seat and report on the activity — currently a circus — in our little corner of the stadium, we wonder who is putting their work in storage because the fans aren’t ready yet? What are we missing out on because we’re plugged into the frequency of Internet time? What is the longer narrative we miss because the news cycle churn? The speed of data obscures overarching yet underlying progress and trends? We are quick to react but slow to act and yet it is actions that make the difference. Progress is like gravity. A constant pull. I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut:

“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., The Sirens of Titan

And time is a man made construct. Hilma af Klint transcended her time with patience. Progress requires patience and it takes what it takes. It takes what it needs.

Patience isn’t measured in units of time.

October 2018 – Hilda af Klint at the Guggenheim. This piece is HUGE and makes Viva smile. I would have titled it “Galaxies in motion.”

Hilma af Klint meets her muse

Questions continue. Why did Ms. af Klint specify 20 years? What made her so sure we would be interested in her artwork after her lifetime when there wasn’t much interest shown during? What was it like to be a contemporary of Kandinsky and Munsch? How did she sustain herself? How did she stay focused and engaged? How did she feed her drive, her ego, her creativity to divine such large works which were so well executed? How did she know a piece was done? How did she determine what needed to be created next?

Putting the distance of death between Hilma af Klint and her work removes her from her work and yet she seems so much bigger now as a result. Will she transcend other artists because we know so little about the reception of her art in her time? I think of this in contrast with other artists. Warhol. He channeled pop culture in soup cans, Marilyns, and cows. If he had put his works away to not be seen for 20 years after his death, would we even know? Would his cows paper a wall of the MoMA? Or Picasso. Guernica. Would he just be knows as someone’s crazy neighbor who scrawled big canvases? Would we even know the name “Picasso”? In this context, Hilma af Klint’s artwork is so much more compelling and intriguing given that she was a woman and that she called it. Her art was not for her lifetime, it is for ours. She graced us with her work. She judged her contemporaries not worthy.

[This opens a whole different train of thought on Hilma af Klint and her art and her reception in life but we won’t follow those questions today. ]


I write to know what I think and even though Hilma af Klint claimed to channel other energies, perhaps she painted for the same reason. She painted to know what she thought and her work was its own reward.

And today her work gives us pause and maybe that is the point.

Pause. Breathe. Patience. Breathe. Pause.

October 2018 – Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim. Viva would have titled this “My rainbow pencil draws circles around me.” Yep.

Hilms af & the Future

Let’s face it. Today Hilma af Klint would be a natural at social media, communications, art commentary and creation of things we are all into. As her best friend, I would call Hilma ‘Hilms’ and ask her deep questions like “Hilms, where do you want to eat lunch? — Tavos or Bel Aire Cantina, ‘yes’ or ‘no’?” And she would be all like “Vivas. Give me a sec,” close her eyes tight, put her fingers to her temples and say, “Blues Egg, darlin.’” And I would be all like “let’s go!”

Well, probably not. She would hang out with a hip social crowd, but we know what that ‘af’ would stand for and she would be all Hilms as fu*k.

Which brings me to Hilms of her time. I love that she had the confidence of a Swedish Scandinavian Norse Viking god-king-man* to tell her nephew that the world wasn’t ready for her paintings, her contemporaries weren’t ready to receive them, weren’t ready to process so much visual information. The sheer ba*lsy confidence to put large artworks into storage and dictate that they be shown no sooner than 20 years after her death? She was not of her time.

And we are left to wonder, maybe we should format all our files, catalog them and instruct Frood* to not open and read them until 20 years after our death, but then “format.” Media changes. Formats change. And what we do is not art. It is so of the moment that the interest we have in it next week, let alone 20 years from now may be nil. I need to write, I need to read what I’m thinking now. Such is life.

October 2018 – Hilda af Klint at the Guggenheim. Viva would have titled this “Dress form with tight belt and I forgot my brassiere.”

And so I find it so interesting in The New York Times article that in a 2013 show of Hilms’ work to a bourgeois group — sniffy and sophisticated I imagine — some broke down into tears. Tears! I could have cried at the Guggenheim going through the exhibit but it would have been aimed at the architect – Frank Lloyd Wright — who in his arrogance designed a public bathroom so small as to be almost unusable. A 4’ x 6’ can with a toilet placed 6” away from a beam running floor to ceiling? Really Frank? Really? And then all of my photos are on a cant because I was either walking up or down the Guggenheim hill but maybe that was Frank was looking into the future too. He fixed us. He foiled our photography. All the photos tilt. Also, no potty for you!

October 2018 – The Guggenheim. The art should make you uncomfortable, not the building. Oh well.

Truly I digress.

There is joy, color, movement, geometry, symmetry, control, intention and so much more in Hilms’ art. Although we were not brought to tears by her art, it makes us look, and relook, and reconsider, and look again, and rinse and repeat and think of our long game, and consider time as man-made and think that maybe, just maybe, in the absence of time, that is where the art really is.

And that makes us smile.

Peace my friends.


* Footnote: “confidence of a Swedish Scandinavian Norse Viking god-king-man”: this is so gloriously redundant in so many ways. We could not resist piling imagery on imagery.

*Frood: aka daughter. ‘Frood’ is still not her real name but she knows where her towel is.

5 replies »

    • Thank you! I didn’t get into it in this post, but in the exhibit and in the NYT article they write more of her process which involved a spirituality of sorts. I wondered if she used this to deflect attention from her pure creativity. The art is more complicated on examination and gives me pause. Anyways, again, thank you for your kind words.

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  1. First, I love Hilma af Klint’s art and had never heard of her. Thank you for introducing her to me.
    Second, I agree with your opinion of FLW’s architecture of the Guggenheim. He wanted more attention than the artists.
    Third, your questioning “Why did Ms. af Klint specify 20 years? What made her so sure we would be interested in her artwork after her lifetime when there wasn’t much interest shown during? What was it like to be a contemporary of Kandinsky and Munsch? How did she sustain herself? How did she stay focused and engaged? How did she feed her drive, her ego, her creativity to divine such large works which were so well executed? How did she know a piece was done? How did she determine what needed to be created next?” caused me to pause and question as well.
    Well done, Viva, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! And The Guggenheim! In concept, I love it. But walking on a continual cant whether up or down was distracting and annoying and I imagine anyone in design or architecture school now would be bounced out faster than you can say ‘Howard Roark’ for inadequate bathroom planning. 😳😆😆 And I find Hilma af Klint works so compelling in part because of her past obscurity and now her celebration. It’s more complicated than it looks. Not unlike spitting out a sentence as clean as a bone. Again, thank you! 🙏🏼

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