A New Hilma af Klint Documentary Traces the Extraordinary True Story of the Mystical Artist Who Invented Abstract Painting—Watch the Trailer Here
The film debuts on April 17.
The visionary Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) was a pioneering abstract painter, but her place in the art history books is only now being assured. The first major step in cementing her legacy was the blockbuster 2019 exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, and now, a new documentary film coming out this week, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint, is the latest attempt to chronicle her contributions to abstract art.
Hilma af Klint began creating her colorful, spiritually guided canvases in 1906—five years before Wassily Kandinsky made his first abstract work—yet she was all but forgotten after her death. That was partly by her own design—her will prohibited the exhibition of her work for decades—but it is also symptomatic of larger tendency in art history to under-recognize the accomplishments of women artists.
In this case, neglecting to acknowledge the primacy of af Klint is a massive omission from perhaps the most important artistic development of the 20th century.
“If you compare her to the supposed genius men, their steps toward abstraction were very timid,” says artist Josiah McElheny in the film’s trailer. “In order to tell the history of abstraction, now you have to rewrite it, because basically all the people who said ‘it happened in this year,’ well no, it didn’t.” (In 2011, McElheny incorporated historical works by artists including Klint into his solo show at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.)
The film’s director, Halina Dyrschka, first discovered af Klint in 2013, in a newspaper article about the exhibition “Hilma af Klint: A Pioneer of Abstraction,” which originated at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. Dyrschka saw the show when it traveled to Berlin, and was blown away by the artist’s work.
“I almost felt personally insulted when I read that this was a new discovery and the paintings have been hidden for decades,” she said in a statement. “Who would be interested in marginalizing this artist’s accomplishments? And why?”
What Dyrschka found was that the art establishment has long been content with a male-dominated narrative that overlooked a pioneering woman artist. As recently as 2013, a show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art titled “Inventing Abstraction: 1910–1925” deigned even a mention of af Klint.
“Hilma af Klint would cause such an upheaval in art history, that some would say ‘It’s better to leave her outside,'” says art critic and historian Julia Voss in the movie’s trailer.
And yet, the rediscovery of af Klint’s work has been hailed around the world, her practice resonating with audiences and breaking attendance records at the Guggenheim. Now, her journey of rediscovery can be followed in film form, accessed online via theaters across the country beginning April 17.
“It is more than time,” said Dyrschka, “to tell the untold heroine stories.”
See the film’s trailer below.
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