VENICE. For two years parts of the art world have discussed whether the role of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint so far was underestimated. Or whether she even was ignored. Did a Mystic Swede Invent Abstract Painting? I asked in The Wall Street Journal.
Wassily Kandinsky, male and from Russia, and a few other men were the first to show abstract works in public in late 1911 and 1912, according to Leah Dickerman, who curated „Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925“ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The Biographical Dictionary website credits Kandinsky with „painting the first modern abstract works.“
But some scholars are saying an obscure Swedish artist, left out of the MoMA exhibition and catalog, should get the credit. The artist, Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), was given a solo show at Stockholm’s renowned Moderna Museet earlier this year. „Art history has to be rewritten,“ says art historian Julia Voss in the light of the af Klint show.
Only days after it closed, the art audience has again the chance to discuss af Klint and her role. After Moderna Museet also the Venice Biennale is exhibiting some of the Swede’s works. In this way a much larger (and more influential) public has the chance to see af Klint works. It remains to be seen whether scholars will really rewrite art history, but having the chance to see the large paintings by the so far almost unknown Swede in any case gives food for thought.
Surely, as Städel curator Felix Krämer says in the Journal „it is not productive to rewrite art history every week. Art history is not a competition“. Still one should keep in mind that af Klint might not have gotten a central role in art history because of being a woman.
The Biennale’s focus has always been contemporary art, but showing it together with earlier works can be enlightened. One not only has the chance to discover an artist that so far is basically unknown to the general public, but also can see af Klints as well as contemporary works differently when shown together.
Af Klint ordered her abstract paintings hidden until two decades after her death; she believed that only then would viewers understand them. Now it is the time to judge.