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Art Gallery of NSW ARTS & CULTURE GUIDE

A landmark exhibition of works by Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint opens at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

A landmark exhibition of works by Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint opens at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 
 
 

Hilma af Klint

The Secret Paintings

 
12 June – 19 September 2021
 
Tomorrow the Art Gallery of New South Wales will open the first survey in Australia by visionary Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), whose remarkable mystical paintings bring new perspectives to the narratives of modern art and have become an international sensation.

 

Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings brings these works to the Asia-Pacific region for the first time. The exhibition presents over 120 works, from early drawings to the artist’s monumental paintings, late watercolours and notebooks. Spanning more than four decades of the artist’s practice, this comprehensive exhibition includes works ranging from the 1890s to 1941. Many of her most renowned paintings are featured, as well as others that are little known.

 

The exhibition is curated by independent curator Sue Cramer and was developed in collaboration with Art Gallery of NSW senior curator of modern and contemporary international art Nicholas Chambers.

 

When af Klint began creating her ambitious new works in 1906, no one had seen paintings like hers before – so monumental in scale, with such radiant colour combinations, enigmatic symbols and other-worldly shapes. Influenced by the spiritualist practices of her time, af Klint believed that her paintings contained messages for humanity communicated to her through the visions she received from spirits. 

 

Stored away and scarcely known for decades, the startling re-discovery of af Klint’s “secret paintings” has captured the imagination of contemporary audiences, with a 2019 exhibition of her work at the Guggenheim Museum breaking attendance records and taking New York by storm. 
 

Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings is supported by the NSW Government through Destination NSW and presented with the cooperation of The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm in association with Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne and major digital sponsor, EY.

Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres said the opening of the Australian exclusive is an important milestone and an exciting feature of the state’s cultural calendar.

‘We are very proud to be supporting the Art Gallery of NSW to host the state’s very first international art exhibition at a State gallery since the onset of the pandemic, and it is a sign that Sydney and NSW is moving forward, we’re open for business and welcoming visitors to enjoy our city’s cultural offerings and hospitality,’ Mr Ayres said.

‘Investing in world-class events is a key pillar in achieving the NSW Government’s goal for NSW to be the premier visitor economy in the Asia-Pacific and Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings will play an important role in attracting visitors and Sydneysiders to the heart of our Harbour City.

‘It’s no small feat to stage an international exhibition of this calibre in the current context, but it is hugely worthwhile. This must-see exhibition will bring radiant colour and inspiration to Sydney this winter and be the envy of other cities globally.’
 

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said: ‘We are thrilled that the first international art exhibition to return to the Art Gallery since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our exhibition schedules is the remarkable work of the pioneering female artist Hilma af Klint. Her exploration of spiritualism, science and nature presents a timely message for Australian audiences, particularly as we continue to face challenges as a result of the global pandemic.

 

‘This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover the extraordinary artistic achievements of an artist whose re-discovered work is now captivating audiences around the world and prompting museums to question art history narratives.’

 
 
Exhibition highlights include 52 works from the artist’s decade-long project, The Paintings for the Temple, which encompasses 193 works, organised broadly into ten different series, made between 1906 and 1915. These paintings include many of the first examples of abstract art in the West, predating abstract works by af Klint’s male contemporaries Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. Af Klint’s works are directly influenced by the artist’s early experiments with the spiritualist group The Five and her deep engagement with spiritualism, Rosicrucianism and Theosophy. A group of large drawings collectively authored by the members of The Five are displayed in the exhibition.

 

Other highlights include Primordial Chaos, the first series in The Paintings for The Temple, which was created between November 1906 and December 1907. Comprising 26 small paintings many of which resemble mysterious occult charts, Primordial Chaos includes the artist’s first abstract works, showing her radical move away from the conventional naturalistic style she learnt as a student at Stockholm’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1890s.

 

A centrepiece of the exhibition is The Ten Largest – af Klint’s celebrated series of exuberant and colourful paintings, each over three metres high, created between October and December in 1907. These ten enormous paintings are brimming with wondrous arrangements of shapes and motifs, through which the artist explores the four stages of human development from childhood and youth, to adulthood and old age. 

 

A significant number of abstract and ethereal watercolours from the last two decades of the artist’s life concludes the exhibition, including several never before placed on public display. In them, af Klint continues her spiritualist and artistic enquiry seeking to directly depict the spirit world and the invisible forces that exist within nature.

 
 
Visitors can attend a free screening of the new documentary, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint, which explores the artist’s influences and legacy from the perspective of art historians, curators and family members. Screening on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 June at 2pm in the Domain Theatre, the documentary provides further insight into the life and artistic practice behind the trailblazing artist whose work has been inspiring audiences around the world. 

 

On Wednesday 16 June, join Sydney-based artists Nicole Barakat and Katy B Plummer at the Art Gallery’s late night program, Art After Hours for a series of interactive workshops and sensory drawing activities that respond to the spiritual world. Continue exploring the Art Gallery after hours by joining a game of oracle cards, have your tarot cards read by artist Adam Jones from Little Orange studio or take part in automatic drawings and much more.

 

Join a special two-day live symposium of online talks and discussions centred on af Klint’s revelations of spirit as they appeared in her art and writing. Hear from artists, local and international experts as they unpack the fascinating history surrounding af Klint. Revelations is a ticketed event on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 July, 3–5pm. Bookings essential.  

 

Book into one of the Art Gallery’s guided tours held daily at 11am for an introduction to the exhibition and in-depth knowledge of the artist’s work. Kids and families can uncover secrets of af Klint’s art through a free children’s trail designed with drawing and writing activities responding to works in the exhibition. The Art Gallery will also offer a range of access programs, including Auslan tours of the exhibition and audio-described programming.

 

Coinciding with the exhibition, the richly illustrated publication, Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings, edited by Sue Cramer with Nicholas Chambers includes five essays and an illustrated chronology bringing fresh perspectives to af Klint’s life and work. Contributors include Sue Cramer and Nicholas Chambers, plus guest writers Jennifer Higgie, Aaron Lister and Julia Voss. The publication is available to purchase for $45 from the Gallery Shop onsite and online

 

The exhibition is on display at the Art Galley of New South Wales from 12 June to 19 September 2021. Tickets are now on sale.

 

Join the conversation #HilmaAfKlint #ilovesydney #LoveNSW

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