The biggest art exhibit you probably haven’t seen just got canned

“Our greatest hope is that these exhibitions can open in their next venues so that future audiences can enjoy them there,” said Dr Brand.

The show was launched with high hopes and financial support from Destination NSW to attract interstate and regional tourists to the gallery where visitor numbers declined 60% in calendar year 2020.

This masthead’s art critic, John McDonald, was one of the lucky few to immerse himself in af Klint’s artistic vision.

“On the one hand, it was great to see a ‘blockbuster’ by an artist whose name was not Monet or Picasso,” he said. “On the other hand, Hilma af Klint is in full swing because the museum world is looking for important women artists to rediscover.

“The fact that she may have been ahead of Kandinsky and Co. with abstract art is a bonus. Spiritualism is also part of people’s anxieties about the present day. So she ticks a lot of boxes.

“She had a huge turnout at the Guggenheim where I saw the show as well, but it would have been extremely optimistic to expect her to take Sydney by storm.”


Af Klint’s posthumous fame rests on a series of spiritualist paintings characterized as abstractions, the oldest of which predate Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian, Kupka and Robert Delaunay. The Swedish painter died in the dark in 1944, after exhibiting a few times.

McDonald’s attributes Klint’s relative anonymity to his associations with spiritualism. She believed that her art flowed from higher entities which she nicknamed “the higher beings” through sessions with the help of a circle of women named the five.

“Like the characters in a pulp novel, they were called The Five, not to be confused with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five,” McDonald wrote in his review due to be published for the exhibition’s reopening. “They were experimenting with automatic writing and collaborative drawings, but it was up to af Klint to take care of big project to create a series of large-scale paintings for a temple that would be built in an illuminated version of the future.

His spirit guide, Amliel, asked Klint to paint a series of altarpiece paintings. Credit:The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

In his will, af Klint left instructions that his spiritualistic works should not be exhibited for at least 20 years after his death.

His heirs offered to donate thousands of drawings, paintings, and journals to Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, but were turned away by the director, Pontus Hulten, who viewed him as a fleeting spiritualist. It is a decision that the late Hulten, one of Europe’s leading museum professionals, could have regretted.

Af Klint’s large-scale works were impressive no matter how we chose to perform them, McDonald said. “But this exhibition dives below the surface, incorporating his writings and a cache of late watercolors that reveal much more about his totality of thought.

Even taking into account the growing global popularity of af Klint, it was “the kind of show we don’t normally see in Australia, so AGNSW deserves credit for taking the risk with an apparent non-blockbuster. “.

The Heide Museum of Modern Art has conducted negotiations with the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm for upcoming works in Australia. The museum was unable to conduct a show scheduled for summer 2021, due to the ripple effects of COVID-led restrictions and multiple closures in 2020 that affected the institution’s advanced schedule.


Heide’s artistic director, Lesley Harding, said the Art Gallery of NSW’s latest announcement was disappointing but not unexpected.

“She was a revolutionary artist,” Ms. Harding said. “It has always been important for Heide to represent the careers of female artists that have historically been overlooked. This was our initial motivation. We are a museum of modern art and she was a forerunner of modernist movements in Europe and Australia in the 20th century.

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