When Swedish modernist painter Hilma af Klint died in 1944, she left explicit instructions for her paintings to be kept in storage for two decades – believing that the world was not yet ready to see her vibrant, monumental canvases infused with intense spiritualism.
She was right. Her family rediscovered the trove of hidden works in the 1960s and offered it to the Stockholm Moderna Museet as a gift, which the institution rejected. It wasn’t until 2013 that the same museum would host the first retrospective of her work, and send shockwaves through the international art community.
After a record-breaking stint at the New York Guggenheim in 2019, the cult-status paintings will now make their way to the Asia Pacific for the first time. Opening tomorrow in Sydney, Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings brings together more than 120 works, including The Ten Larges – ten 3-metre tall canvases illustrating the stages of the human life cycle.
Hilma’s paintings radically re-draw the male-centric timelines of 20th century art history. Created as early as 1906, her epic works pre-date those of Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian who were widely considered the fathers of the modernist art movement.
A member of the avant-garde mystic movement, Hilma was also known for holding seances at her house, and investing deeply in the burgeoning spiritualism of the time. Her large abstract shapes are drawn from occult symbology, and contain messages about human life relayed from the spiritual world. Kooky and fabulous!
The exhibition will also include examples of her early watercolours and Primordial Chaos – a series of 26 works which marks Hilma’s first steps away from naturalism and towards revolutionary experiments with abstraction. The program will be accompanied by a screening of the new documentary, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint; and a two-day symposium of online talks.
‘This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover the extraordinary artistic achievements of an artist whose re-discovered work is now captivating audiences around the world and prompting museums to question art history narratives,’ says gallery director Dr Michael Brand.