The radical and romantic legacy of the Rossettis comes alive at the Tate Britain
by Vatsala SethiMay 17, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by STIRworldPublished on : Apr 13, 2023
Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian: Forms of Life is an upcoming visual art exhibition at Tate Modern that will bring the two visionary painters together for the first time. Though both artists were contemporaries, they never met and in most literature on the abstract art movement in Europe, Klint and Mondrian are often compared, only to rectify who spearheaded the movement. With Forms of Life, the two artists will deduce the similarities in their imagination, rendering an alternate visual language. The exhibition will include approximately 250 works, including paintings, drawings, and archival material, reflecting on their radical new ideas, theories, and scientific advances, in a time of steady technological innovations and consequent social progress.
The theme for Forms of Life will be rooted in Klint and Mondrian's fascination with the natural and supernatural and intends to explore the artists' idiosyncratic lens, developed to conceptually visualise nature and offer it alternative forms. Through early landscapes, botanical drawings, and popular abstract paintings, the exhibition traces the artists' ever-embracing affinity with nature, during their career trajectories.
Both Klint and Mondrian began their practice as landscape painters, but in the early 1900s, they developed abstract art as a visual language. Interestingly, the timeline of this intersects with the Second Industrial Revolution or the Technological Revolution: the advent of X-rays, radioactivity, and electrons in the 1890s, which provoked the revelation that reality is beyond what meets the eye. Congruently, religious practices began to comply with the practicalities of the modern world, giving birth to esoteric movements, such as Theosophy and Anthroposophy.
The origin of Klint’s abstraction is placed in the underbelly of her clairvoyance. She believed her abstract artworks were painted under the influence of her soul's possession by a higher spirit. She also conducted seances with a group of female artists and believed she was a medium for an entity from another realm. From 1905, Klint produced a series of occult paintings that will be displayed at Tate Modern, including Evolution (1908) and Tree of Knowledge (1913-15).
Klint resurfaced in the art history canon in 1986, via the Los Angeles exhibition—The Spiritual in Art. This inconvenienced the art history prerogative since she is considered to be Europe’s first abstract painter. Klint was not overlooked by art scholars of her time but had set forth that her 1,200 paintings, 100 texts, and 26,000 pages of notes should not be shown until 20 years after her death. This also explains why Kandinsky and Mondrian are accredited as pioneers of abstract art in most of art literature.
However, there have been some claims on the doubled longevity of displaying Klint’s work after her death. For instance, in an article for the Guardian, Halina Dyrschka, filmmaker of Beyond The Visible (a biography on Hilma Af Klint), said, “It’s easier to make a woman into a crazy witch than change art history to accommodate her. We still see a woman who is spiritual as a witch, while we celebrate spiritual male artists as geniuses.”
The exhibit will also look into Mondrian's spiritual beliefs, such as how his geometric, angular, and simple painting style were intended to convey thoughts about the fundamental reality of the universe. Mondrian’s journey of abstraction was evolutionary and at his intermediary best, he represented the aesthetic ideals of the 19th century. He painted what the traditional art market desired—flowers, windmills, sunsets, and farmhouses.
In the early 1900s, the European art scene witnessed a breakthrough that based itself on the precise imitation of the Renaissance and other art movements such as Cubism, intended on fragmenting forms. These influences, alongside inspirational Theosophy, encouraged Mondrian to paint the instinctual realm of spirit, with his brand of gridlocks manifested gradually. In 1917, an avant-garde magazine De Stijl was founded; Mondrian wrote of his audacious endeavour to revolutionise Netherlands’ morbid art culture and soon, he was associated with an art movement called De Stijl (The Style), producing structures with mathematical utility that transformed with vibrant colours, the apogee of his spiritual quest.
At the exhibition's core, a room is designated to an archive of sketches, notebooks, and letters from the artists' to understand their ideation process. This will be presented with references from Goethe's colour theory, Rudolph Steiner’s diagrams, and Carl Linnaeus’s depictions of the natural world, facilitating visitors' insight into the artists’ development process—of their visual language, composed of colours and shapes, to interpret life on earth.
Frances Morris ( director, Tate Modern), Nabila Abdel Nabi (curator, international art, Tate Modern), Briony Fer ( professor of art history, UCL) Laura Stamps (curator of modern and contemporary art, Kunstmuseum den Haag), and Amrita Dhallu (assistant curator, international art, Tate Modern ) have curated the Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian: Forms of Life exhibition. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern along with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and will be open to the public from April 20 to September 3, 2023.
(Text by Sakhi Sobti, (Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))
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