Tuesday, April 14, 2020

BEYOND THE VISIBLE--HILMA AF KLINT could change what we know of abstract-art history

Yours truly follows the art world only cursorily -- very cursorily -- so he had never heard of the eponymous subject of the new documentary, BEYOND THE VISIBLE -- HILMA AF KLINT. It will turn out, I suspect, that many of the folk who follow art more closely than I may not have heard of Ms Klint, either. So this new documentary should go far in terms of introducing viewers to an unusual woman who was a contemporary of Kandinsky and who, some feel, was his superior --  not to mention his forerunner -- regarding abstract art.

The documentary's director, Halina Dyrschka (shown at left), whose first full-length film this is, combines the history of her subject with that of art history, art criticism and the usual talking heads so many documentaries include in order to make their salient points.

The most important of these points would seem to be that Klint (shown below) has been deliberately overlooked by the art establishment, first, because she was female, and second, because she believed in and painted the "spiritual." That she was also involved in various seances -- so popular around the turn of the twentieth century -- didn't much help her reputation, either.

Yet seeing some of this woman's very large and gloriously colored work early on in the film makes a good case for her inclusion, and listening to some of the talking heads remark on the reasons why Klint was not included should raise your hackles properly. The most incisive of these is German Art Critic and Historian, Julia Voss (below), whose follow-the-money explanation at film's finale makes a good deal of sense ("It's all about how much money you can make, and with Hilma, you can't make any!"), while the most charming and resonant voice belongs to German Historian of Science, Ernst Peter Fischer, who cleverly links Klint a little more to science than to spirituality.

In fact, it's this spirituality connection, along with the corresponding work Klint did during this rather lengthy period of her life that seems to me the least interesting and accomplished of her oeuvre. This stuff more often resembles exercises than real art, and unfortunately the filmmaker spends an awfully long time with and on it all.

Part of the reason for this, I suspect, is that Klint was a very private person, so not much of her personal life is (or maybe can be) explored here. Instead we get more of who she knew and what they thought and why all this added up to her exclusion.

While not uninteresting, this finally becomes a bit repetitive, as does the art that goes along with this period. It's less than overwhelming. (So are the repetitive shots of someone we assume to be standing in for Klint, recreating the painting of her large canvases.)

TrustMovies was about to decide that, overall, he wasn't much taken with this Klint-o-mania, but then we get to the point at which a huge array of her work has a showing at last in her home country of Sweden. Now, we begin to see a fuller picture and, yes, we're caught up in the beauty and originality of her paintings all over again.

Now, what we viewed toward the beginning of the film -- comparison of Klint's work with that of Albers, Klee, Twobly and even Warhol -- seems even more telling. As does the unwillingness of the art establishment -- then and now -- to give this artist anywhere near full entry or to recognize her place as a pioneer of abstract art. Thankfully this is changing, and Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint should only add to the change.

From Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber, the documentary was to have had its theatrical release last week in New York City, but will now get a virtual theatrical release across the USA digitally beginning this Friday, April 17, via Kino Marquee.  Click here for more information.

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