Hilma Af Klint – The Unknown Mother of Modern Art


The Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park is one of my favourite haunts in the world. There is something very soothing about walking to a gallery through tranquil parkland populated by squirrels and birds rather than bustling city streets. The Peter Pan statue stands nearby, which always evokes very pleasant childhood memories of my first visit to London.

I discovered the delights of the Serpentine at a revival Gilbert & George’s The Dirty Words Pictures, 1977 exhibition in 2002. It’s the kind of place you keep going back to time and time again. It’s relatively tiny, but welcomes  1.2 million visitors a year, proving so popular they opened a second gallery called the Hackler a few years ago. I’ve seen some great exhibitions there over the years, and a couple of poor ones, but their latest presentation of Swedish artist Hilma Af Klint’s Painting The Unseen is easily one of the best.

Not to be confused with the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt who painted The Kiss, Hilma Af Klint is only starting to receive the credit and recognition she so richly deserves. Before she died in 1944, she stipulated that she did not want any of her work exhibited for at least twenty years. Af Klint was years ahead of her time, dabbling in abstraction years before the rest of the world caught up.

In 2013, she was finally showcased at a major exhibition in Stockholm and her profile has risen ever since. She has been known to move viewers to tears. I find her work extremely moving, sometimes unsettling, but ultimately incredibly uplifting. I visited again the following day.

Af Klint deals with dualities – especially male/female, in an extremely raw, open and honest way. The largest works in Painting the Unseen represent the main stages of life: childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. They are mind blowing and immensely moving.

Hilma was also a mystic, as was WB Yeats, Gustav Mahler, Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky. This tiny five foot tall woman, who was a vegetarian and always wore black, is posthumously receiving her dues for being one of the great unsung pioneers of modern art.

“Creativity is bigger than art history,” says her Swedish curator Iris Müller-Westermann. “Hilma is like Leonardo – she wanted to understand who we are as human beings in the cosmos.”

Runs until Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the Serpentine Galleries, Hyde Park

“Life is a farce if a person does not serve truth.”

– Hilma Af Klimt


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