All I can say is “Wow” on two counts: the stunning architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and finding Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Multilevelled but easily accessed with a gentle descending surface in circular motion I was blown away by the construction. Not only that but the display areas were well proportioned and lit to show both the smallest and largest art works to great effect. It felt like a freeing and opening up of space in contrast to the boxed-in sensation of a rectangular room.
It was a chance visit, a toss up between the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Paved outside with circles, I went in blind to see what it had to offer and was immediately stunned to see circles on the walls. From that moment I wanted to know more and set out on a voyage of discovery that has been resonating with me ever since (e.g. Ernoult 2015).
Why should it have such an impact? A few months ago I started out photographing circles, white and black and sometimes with colour with the intention of encouraging the recycling of our waste. I have had many doubts as to the appeal of these images but have been surprised that some have had a positive response from viewers including tutors and peers. They clearly appeal to some (e.g. Helen Sears who I wrote about in a previous post) but have a limited life span for others (as in a portfolio review where coming to the end and closing down this diversification from my project was suggested). To see Hilma af Klint’s circles coming into their own in such a significant time and place showed me that there is still some way to go before I reach the point of exhausting this diversion.
It was not just about the circles. As I descended the levels of the museum I learned about Hilma af Klint’s life and work. She had specified that none of her work was to be shown until 20 years after her death saying the world was not ready to see it. In addition she wanted her work displayed in a circular building. The Guggenheim is a perfect match. She is now credited with being the earliest contemporary artist in Europe, predating Kandinsky.
Hilma af Klint’s work from early beginnings in botanical illustration evolved with her interest and some might venture to remark, increasing obsession, with the afterlife. Her notebooks recording and interpreting the meanings of seances she was involved with were on display. Circles continued to appear in later works even as small embellishments to larger non circular shapes.
Her use of colour whether soft pastel tones or sharply distinguished shades invites you in. I learned that she adopted the idea that yellow represented males and blue females with shades of green representing their relationships. Despite this repeating colour work in her pieces she often brought in an array of other colours, some of which dominate and challenge while others are subtly complementary and compatible. Some of her paintings initially appeared to me as a little naive and simplistic in their execution. However, there is no doubt in my mind as to the complexity in their creation and of their intended meaning. Without researching her notebooks understanding some of the paintings and the symbolic meanings of the figures and text is impossible. The accompanying descriptive boards were very helpful. The following three Altarpieces were made for her planned circular temple which would house her life’s work and be a place of spiritual significance.
Finding Hilma af Klint has encouraged me to think beyond the circle simply being a shape and to look at the symbolic and spiritual meanings and representations it has had across time and cultures.
GUGGENHEIM Museum. ‘Hilma af Klint’. Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/hilma-af-klint [accessed 16/11/18].
ERNOULT, Natalie. 2015. Hilma af Klint: La Mere de l’Abstraction. Review, Aware, 30.11.2015. Available at: https://awarewomenartists.com/en/magazine/hilma-af-klint-mere-de-labstraction/ [accessed 03/12/18].