Katy Hessel, the voice behind a popular podcast called Great Women Artists recently published an already award-winning book entitled The Story of Art Without Men. As the Financial Times reviews, “Katy Hessel’s unapologetically revisionist book campaigns against the patriarchy of the art world.” That women artists have struggled for centuries to be taken seriously is a point that would not be lost on Hilma af Klint, the focus of our opening film, Hilma. af Klint is a fascinating artist whose works created space for spirituality and art to intertwine, and her visionary creations challenged conventions and helped redefine the art world.

Hilma af Klint in her studio in 1985. The portrait in the background is her grandfather.
Copyright: Public Domain

Hilma af Klint (1862 -1944), often hailed as both artist and mystic, found a profound connection between these two realms. As a devoted follower of Theosophy, a religious movement influenced by diverse traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, af Klint said she received divine instruction during seances, urging her to paint the hidden world that lay beyond human perception.

From a young age, af Klint’s artistic talent blossomed, leading her to become one of the first women to receive formal training at the esteemed Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Sweden. Over five years, she honed her skills in drawing, portrait painting, anatomical drawing, and landscape painting, graduating with well-deserved honors. At the academy, she encountered Anna Cassels, her first romantic partner, with whom she co-founded “The Five,” a group of like-minded women fascinated by spiritism. Guided by the revelations from seances as early as 1896, af Klint ventured into “automatic drawing and painting,” describing herself as a conduit for the spiritual realm. In 1906, she embarked on her first abstract works, exploring non-representational art long before it gained prominence.

Paintings for the Temple 5
by Hilma af Klint
Copyright: Public Domain

For af Klint, her art and religious beliefs were inseparable, serving as the driving forces behind her creative endeavors. Through her groundbreaking works, she not only reimagined the very essence of art but also challenged the conventional notions of gender. Blurring and ultimately erasing the lines between male and female energies, af Klint captured a profound understanding of her spiritual world, where fluidity prevailed.

Despite her obvious talent, af Klint struggled to find an audience for her non-representational paintings. Exhibitions often segregated women artists, allocating them limited space that was challenging to access. Even within the formal Theosophy organizations, where she hoped her art would resonate, support was scarce. Nevertheless, af Klint’s unwavering commitment to her vision led her to leave behind over 1,200 works entrusted to her nephew, with the stipulation that they remain hidden until two decades after her passing.

Guggenheim Exhibit of af Klint’s Work
Ryan Dickey from Evanston, IL / Chicago, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It was not until the 1960s that her remarkable works saw the light of day, leading to the establishment of a foundation to preserve her artistic legacy. Since the 1980s, her captivating creations have been celebrated in solo exhibitions around the world, including a monumental retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York City in 2018-2019. Notably, the exhibit perfectly embodied her artistic vision, with her artwork displayed in a rising cyclical layout, a concept she had envisioned long before.

We are excited to show the film, Hilma, on May 31-June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at the Knickerbocker Theatre (86 East 8th Street) in downtown Holland, Michigan. The film is in English with a 2-hour run time.

Want to learn more about Hilma af Klint?

Listen to this podcast
Katy Hessel and Guggenheim curator Tracey Bashkoff discussing Hilma af Klint.

Watch this short video
The Guggenheim created a short video about af Klint in conjunction with their 2019 exhibition of her work.

Buy a book from your favorite independent bookseller
You can buy a variety of books locally or online. Don’t worry. We asked Jeff Bezos and he feels he can absorb the revenue loss. PLUS — we’ll be giving away one copy of Julia Voss’ 2022 book, Hilma af Klint: A Biography every night we show the film.

Visit the Kruzienga Art Museum (KAM)
Do they have works by af Klint? Well, no, but you should always spend more time with great art. And you can visit the KAM for free!

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