Hilma's af Klint's groundbreaking abstraction

A painting by Hilma af Klint

I stumbled across this review of early 20th century Swedish painter Hilda af Klint and I’m pretty blown away by it. For one, her work was staggeringly innovative: her experiments with abstraction and spiritualist-inspired painting predate Kandinsky, Miro, and Klee by decades. But I also think her stuff is simply beautiful. Despite the stylistic and thematic similarities with her male contemporaries, there’s a precision and care in her compositions that strikes me as unique. They feel kind of graphic in a way, inviting enough to be equally at home on a poster or a gallery wall. But it was, of course, the gallery walls that were forbidden to her.

The fact that her work – and that of countless other women artists of her time and long before – was alternately ignored and dismissed for (literally) 100 years is yet another reminder of Modernism’s unintended legacy. The idea was to create a more accessible, more democratic, more universal way of seeing and creating and living. But the founders’ definition of “universal” extended only to people who looked and thought like themselves. That is to say: rich white dudes. This blindness often reduced modernism to an enabler of prejudice, and, in af Klint’s case, robbed the world of at least one of the geniuses of the 20th century.