Didem Doğan

Guggenheim Museum: Hilma af Klint

One of the main spaces for contemporary art in New York is the Guggenheim Museum in upper East Manhattan on the 89th street and fifth avenue; the famous building made by Frank Lloyd Wright in a spiral shape is both picturesque from the outside and inside and when you are inside it whatever art work you are looking at it makes you feel like you are looking at an artwork inside another art work. Climbing the six floors from the bottom to the top or descending them you have different views in every corner and it is truly an experience to watch this iconic building from every aspect.

The Swedish painter Hilma Af Klint’s retrospective exhibition spread out to five floors of the museum shows the works of the artist when she had a rupture from her prior classical paintings towards a more spiritual work following a connection with the transcendental world. Her art work is often named together with abstract artists’ work such as Kandinsky, Modrian who painted in fact years after her. Af Klint ordered that her paintings for the temple should be exhibited following twenty years of her death thinking that the public wasn’t ready for this. Her story and the fact that this exhibition is taking place in Guggenheim has indeed an interesting story. Af Klint received some messages from a transcendental level that told her to make paintings for the temple that would be a circular building (that would be Guggenheim), the iconic spiral shaped building similar to a sea shell. At the entrance of the exhibition you see the 'Ten Big Paintings for the Temple’ with pastel colours and geometrical shapes, they give you a sense of happiness and pureness. The complete work gathers many concepts and styles, geometrical shapes show cosmic explanations, duality, the concept of evolution. Af Klint with her other four women companions called themselves ‘The Five’ and they received messages from superior beings. Her work channelled, in a way, these messages to image. She was deeply related to two belief systems that were Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, two esoteric beliefs. Being a Lutheran Christian herself she also believed in these two, first one related more to Buddhism and Hinduism while the second one was more influenced by Medieval Christianism. Af Klint, in the end, only saw herself and her work as a messenger or a channel. Referring to her work the American artist Quaytman said ‘Af Klint followed two orders: ‘Obey’, ‘Only partly understand’, that would be similar to the way of a prophet channeling the message to ordinary people.