by Christine Burgin. University of Chicago Press, September 2018. 288 p. ill. 9780226591933 (h/c), $45.00.
Reviewed January 2019
Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was an artistic and spiritual polymath at the turn of the twentieth century who worked on her own terms in a variety of media throughout her life. Editor Christine Burgin’s Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods is the first English translation of select af Klint writings that highlights the depth and range of her spiritual, scientific, and aesthetic oeuvre. This hardcover facsimile of 300 high quality color plates is accompanied by translations of text, in addition to definitions of letters and words that appear in af Klint’s paintings and drawings.
The book is divided into an introduction, six main sections, and an afterward by Johan af Klint. The intro and main sections include commentary by Iris Müller-Westermann. Each section incorporates concise biographical information on af Klint and translations from Swedish to English by Kerstin Lind Bonnier and Elizabeth Clark Wessel. More importantly, each notebook is accompanied by its archival number for reference. Archival research is relatively absent in the scholarship on the artist. As such, the inclusion of reference numbers is essential information for art historians and research practitioners interested in a closer examination of archival materials available at the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. This book is paramount in pushing the dialogue on af Klint and her role in European modernism further.
The section “Letters and Words Pertaining to Work by Hilma af Klint” is of particular importance. It demonstrates the significant role language played in af Klint’s work. This extensive compilation of translated words and letters is alphabetized and easily searchable. It indicates symbolic complexity while acting as a quick reference guide for researchers interested in a more thorough visual analysis of af Klint’s work. Until now, no such reference has been available.
Every university art library should have a copy of Notes and Methods on their shelf. The book broadens an understanding of af Klint’s visual vocabulary from the late 1800s through the first two decades of the 1900s. The dominance of images provides the reader with the breadth of her artistic concerns and some of the underlying structures in her work. The book also expounds on af Klint’s myriad interests in science, mathematics, esotericism, and mysticism. Art history is only now beginning to dig deeper into af Klint’s life and work. This book and the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition catalog Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future (2018) will be the definitive texts on the artist for years to come.