This Thursday, at 4 pm EST, the exhibition Hilma af Klint – Paintings for the Future will open to the public at the Guggenheim in New York. In the run-up to the exhibition, CFHILL met with Johan af Klint, who hasn’t just been involved in organizing this in all regards monumental exhibition through his work for the Hilma af Klint Foundation, but who has also been involved in the entire journey Hilma af Klint has made, in which she has gone from forgotten mystic to an innovator of the avant garde and an essential linchpin for our understanding of how early modernism was rooted in the new spiritual movements of the fin de siècle era.
CFHILL: Is this the most significant event to take place since the re-evaluation of Hilma af Klint’s work began in the early 2000s?
Johan af Klint (JaK): The big retrospective show at Moderna Museet in 2013 was the first step. At the time, my requirement as chairman of the Foundation was that the exhibition would go on tour in the US and Europe for two years. Although the show ended up only travelling around the European circuit, it was a great success. During those two years, the exhibition was seen by more than a million visitors. The next phase was the Serpentine Gallery in 2016. By that point, the importance of her work was beyond debate. And now that she’s recently been shown at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, another continent has been conquered. This time, Hilma af Klint will be introduced to the American audience more fully than ever before. The fact that the Guggenheim has opened its doors to her is overwhelming. The exhibition has been worked through on a fundamental level. It will lead on to other aspects of her work. I’ve fact-checked the catalogue personally. This is a catalogue that people will read.
Have you met with the curator of the exhibition, Tracey Bashkoff?
– Yes, several times. Tracey actually came to our house for dinner along with Daniel Birnbaum and Julia Voss. Tracey Bashkoff is the head curator of the Guggenheim Museum, and she has produced important exhibitions featuring Kandinsky, Ellsworth Kelly, John Baldessari, and Roy Lichtenstein in the past. In this exhibition, she has placed Paintings for the Temple centre-stage. The symbol of the seashell, which appears both in Hilma af Klint’s art and in several religious traditions, is a theme that is beautifully matched with the actual architecture of the Guggenheim Museum. Hilma af Klint’s vision was for the Paintings for the Temple to be hung in a round, temple-like building . So, you can genuinely say that this exhibition of the paintings at the Guggenheim is a kind of homecoming.
CFHILL: Will the catalogue that’s being published add anything new to the story?
– Until now, the contents of the various exhibition catalogues have mainly addressed the art historical aspects, but this time, more of the religious aspects are included.
In her abstract art, Hilma af Klint “made the invisible visible”. She presented philosophical ideas and spiritual concepts physically, on canvases – that can still be viewed and contemplated today, by later generations. Her philosophical ideas and her abstract art were like two communicating vessels. If you want to interpret the abstract paintings of Hilma af Klint, you need to begin by familiarising yourself with her religious background. In several places in the catalogue, there is mention of the fact that Hilma af Klint’s abstract art was based on Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and Christianity.
Are there any other events planned for the opening week?
– During the symposium that will be held on the day of the opening, the lectures will be addressing some of these religious aspects.