The Art Angle Podcast: How the Art World Fell Under the Spell of the Occult

In this week's episode, scholar Eleanor Heartney joins us to discuss the rising tide of spiritualism represented in art.

A century after her death, Hilma af Klint's work is having a second life in today's fractured world.
A century after her death, Hilma af Klint's work is having a second life in today's fractured world.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

You don’t hear the words “witch hunt” much nowadays, unless they are being deployed by a certain US President. But the term is increasingly relevant—in a much more literal sense—to any tour through the art-historical canon, where witchcraft, paganism, and the occult seem to be more important presences every day.

This development is in tune with what’s happening in mainstream culture, too. More than one million Americans today identify as Neopagans or Wiccans, and many businesses are riding their broomsticks straight to the bank. In the US, more than $2 billion is spent on “mystical services” each year, ranging from tarot card readings to online horoscopes, and you can find a slew of podcasts on the subject with titles like “Hippie Witch,” “so you wanna be a witch?” and “The Witch Bitch Amateur Hour,” to name just a few.

What exactly is driving this spiritualist surge? This week, author and art critic Eleanor Heartney joins the Art Angle to divine the details of this phenomenon in art and culture. Following an article for Artnet News in which she traced the intensifying focus on artists exploring occult practices in recent museum exhibitions—most notably the Guggenheim’s attendance-record-breaking retrospective of the Swedish mystic artist Hilma af Klint—Heartney discusses why spiritualism and the occult are on the rise in 2020, how feminism fits into the puzzle, and what her new book, Doomsday Dreams: The Apocalyptic Imagination in Contemporary Art, has to say about breaking through a history of cataclysm-inclined thinking.

Listen below and subscribe to the Art Angle on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)

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