February 2, 2021 – This documentary about a long overlooked Swedish abstract painter is a bit like sitting though an art history class featuring a slide show of Hilma's work.
There is an awful lot of complaining in this movie about the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) and how it unfairly dominates the world of art history, as well as the historic art market.
The complaints have to do with how the Swedish painter, Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) was unfairly overlooked for years by the art world as the first Western artist to create abstract paintings.
Up until Hilma did her first abstract paintings in 1906, most artists were trying to create a photographic-like illusion of visible reality in paintings. While ancient asian and primitive cultures used abstract art, mainline Western painters did not, until the early 20th Century. The movie argues that Hilma was a long overlooked pioneer in this regard.
Hilma didn't just paint a few abstract paintings, either, she did over 1,200 them. So why was she overlooked until recently? The movie drops several hints about this. She appears to have had few exhibitions of her abstracts, and sold even less, perhaps partly because of the resistance of art buyers to new styles. Perhaps also partly because she did not need the income from art sales.Another thing working against Hilma was her spiritualism. Hilma thought she had been chosen by God to paint, and that spirits from a higher plane were painting through her. She was a follower of Theosophy, and believed in contacting the “High Masters” on a spiritual plane, sometimes by way of séances. Swedish society is now mostly secular, so this causes some resistance to Hilma's ideas, even now.
Hilma also specified in her will that her abstracts were to be kept secret for 20 years after her death, so they were kept in storage. Attempts to sell the paintings in the 1970s failed. It wasn't until the 1980s that a wider audience saw Hilma's abstract paintings.
Because of Hilma's will and the odd history of her collection of paintings, including the unlikely effectiveness of the storage space where they were kept, this collection of paintings is nearly 100 percent complete. It survived in surprisingly good condition. It is now all kept in one place, by the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden, along with thousands of pages of notes written by Hilma.
The movie shows many of Hilma's paintings, and provides re-enactments of how they were painted. It also shows the materials used in the paint and surfaces. Several art experts and art historians talk in the movie about how important Hilma's paintings are and how good they are, and how lucky it is that the work survived.
The movie also shows us places where Hilma used to live and where she used to work. While this movie is informative and well intentioned, it is fairly static, slow moving and didactic. This is not something to watch if you are feeling a bit sleepy. It rates a C+.
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