The Life and Times of Hilma af Klint


When the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint died, in obscurity, in 1944, she left behind instructions that her work not be shown for twenty years after her death. Af Klint was stung by the indifference of her contemporaries. She believed that future audiences might be more receptive to her work’s abstraction and mysticism.

More than seven decades passed before the Guggenheim put together a comprehensive retrospective and made her a star. The New Yorker’s art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, in his review of the 2018 show, that “something about [the art] resonates with a restlessly searching mood in present culture, hostile to old ideas. Af Klint has a lot of people’s rapt attention.” The show became the most heavily attended in the museum’s history.

The Five Lives of Hilma af Klint,” a début graphic novel by the Berlin-based artist and graphic designer Philipp Deines (published, perhaps ironically for the once commercially unappreciated af Klint, by David Zwirner Books, an offshoot of the super gallery), examines how af Klint’s art was shaped by her seagoing ancestors, the haunting loss of her younger sister, the prejudice she faced from the male artistic establishment, her romantic relationships with women, her travels, and her fascination with spiritualism and the occult. The book carefully grounds af Klint, who is heralded these days for being a visionary far ahead of her time, in the solid realities of her life. In the book’s afterword, Julia Voss, Deines’s collaborator and wife, who is the author of her own af Klint biography, writes, “Hilma af Klint in the hotel. Hilma af Klint at the train station. On the train. Inside the studio. Or by the sea, on the cliff that gave her family its name. . . . The more Philipp drew, the less isolated Hilma af Klint appeared to us.”

The following is drawn from “The Five Lives of Hilma af Klint.”


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