Here’s a new name to add to the pantheon of pioneering, “inconvenient women”: Hilma af Klint, a Swedish painter born in 1862, whose work is now on show at the Guggenheim Museum. A highly educated artist who graduated with honors from Stockholm’s Royal Academy of Art, she found success with her renderings of nature and with portraiture. Interested in philosophy and spiritualism, af Klint was part of de Fem (The Five), a group of women artists who conducted seances and experimented with automatic drawings long before Surrealists began their automatic writing projects. The women believed they could communicate with higher spirits, one of whom tasked af Klint with creating works for the Temple, which she imagined to be a spiraling edifice—making the Guggenheim the ideal place to view her works.
Created between 1906 and 1915, the Temple paintings are exemplars of abstraction before the movement even existed; they were little-known for decades. Af Klint, feeling that people weren’t ready for this kind of work, left instructions that they not be exhibited for at least 20 years after her death in 1944. First exhibited in the 1980s, they disrupt the long-accepted narrative of abstract painting. In some respects af Klint is an outsider artist; a woman working alone (or perhaps channeling otherworldly energies) in Sweden, which makes the connections between her work and that of long-accepted masters like Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich—which it predates—all the more remarkable.
Beautifully colored, with sinuous lines seemingly taken from nature, or boldly graphic, af Klimt’s work remains relevant and fresh. To celebrate this landmark exhibition, the family-run Hilma af Klint Foundation in Sweden has teamed up with interiors firm Asplund and CF Hill gallery to reproduce works from the artist’s Temple Series as hand-knotted rugs. In New York, Gigi Loizzo, the museum’s Director of Retail Strategy and Operations and her colleague Katherine Lock, who manages merchandise and product development, were inspired to create a limited-edition capsule collection of objects based on af Klint’s work.
“We found it very beautiful, very accessible,” Loizzo says. “Hilma’s story is just compelling. I feel like [this] is a moment in history for women, for abstract art.” It called for more than a postcard or a refrigerator magnet, so the team worked with a group of artisans, most of whom are women, to create more than 60 products ranging in price from $1.95 to $395. Some of these, like the trays made by the Boston-based team of Michele and Martin Yeeles, feature reproductions of af Klint’s work. Others used it as a starting point for related designs. The throws and bags in the capsule were designed by Kentuckian sisters Margaret and Colleen Clines, who established the Anchal Project, which provides jobs to former sex workers in India. Michele Quan, a ceramist who works in Brooklyn, crafted a collection within the capsule, called “Ode to Himla.” Comprised of vessels, stacking stones, bells, and more, it balances the symbolic with the tactile.
Though we live in a hyper-connected world, there is still a collective yearning for connection. The just-concluded Spring 2019 fashion season featured many a sound bath soundtrack and talk of spirituality, a subject that was a main motive in af Klint’s work which seeped into the capsule collection (which is selling so well it’s already being reordered), too. What’s the appeal? “Look at the age we live in,” Loizzo says. “We live in a technology-driven, soundbite age and I think people are in need of places of stillness and silence to allow themselves just to be.” After viewers sink into the collection in the museum, these objets d’art might help bring a bit of peace home.
“Hilma af Klint: Painting for the Future,” is on view at through April 23, 2019.