Edited by Iris Müller-Westermann and Milena Høgsberg. Hatje Cantz, June 2020. 280 p. ill. ISBN 9783775747400 (h/c), $55.00.
Reviewed March 2021
Sarah Falls, University Librarian, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, email@example.com
Hilma af Klint: Artist, Researcher, Medium is the latest scholarly work in a growing canon about the artist. Relatively unknown before the 1980s, af Klint has gained recent worldwide popularity through two retrospective exhibits with record-breaking attendance. Moderna Museet has partnered with the Hilma af Klint Foundation to preserve, document, and research her oeuvre, and this publication allows the curators to push further, situating her roles as woman artist, medium, and researcher.
Edited by Iris Müller-Westermann, director of Moderna Museet, and Milena Høgsberg, who together curated the exhibition, the catalog excellently supplements the curation through its essays and embodies the exhibit through the abundant image reproductions. The manner in which the images are reproduced reveals the vibrant coloration of af Klint’s works. The text is made of up of six essays, which examine her work in the context of three interrelated roles. For the curators, the most challenging part of af Klint’s identify is that of medium and spiritualist. After all, how does one address in seriousness, an artist who takes commissions from spirits? The selected authors of the essays, most of whom are not art historians, do an excellent job in relating to her role as a woman artist to trends in early twentieth century spiritualism and science. Particularly helpful is the essay by Hedvig Martin which describes de Fem, an all-female artistic and spiritualist group with which af Klint worked. Martin’s essay is key to pulling together af Klint’s work and identity, and describes women’s involvement in early 20th century spiritualist movements that helped to bridge gaps in understanding during a time of burgeoning scientific discovery. In this context, as a woman, af Klint sits outside the artistic academy but is able to engage with less mainstream religious trends. She is interested in science and research, heavily documenting nature and her own artistic process, but also looks outside of science for answers.
Despite a beautifully illustrated cover, the catalog some has physical limitations. It is published in a landscape format, which allows for multiple images from the same series to be viewed across pages, but some images are small. Illustrations are placed within essays as appropriate, but key works described in essays are harder to find while reading. Essays are well-researched with notes and documentation, but there is no collective bibliography that might have added to the overall work. Other scholarly apparatus includes a timeline biography of the artist’s life, which is helpful, along with an index of both images (grouped by series) and illustrations. Reproductions of these series, along with her Blue Books are important to understanding her body of work. Given the complexity of the themes, this book is recommended for advanced undergraduate and graduate study.