For most of the last century, art scholars generally credited Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky with creating the first paintings of the abstract movement around 1911.
As it turns out, they were wrong – a Swedish artist named Hilma af Klint had quietly become the world’s first abstract artist five years earlier, before the term even existed, and by the time of Kandinsky’s first effort had already produced a considerable body of abstract work.
How did this important contribution to art history manage to go unnoticed by critics and historians for so many years? It’s not at all surprising, really – Hilma af Klint was a woman, and therefore, to the male-dominated art world of the early 20th century, irrelevant.
Now, her life and work is being explored in a new documentary from German director Halina Dyrschka. “Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint” introduces film audiences to a visionary trailblazing figure who, inspired by spiritualism, modern science, and the riches of the natural world around her, created a series of huge, colorful, sensual works that were without precedent in the world of painting.
According the the film’s official description, it’s a “course-correcting documentary” that not only covers the artist’s biographical details, but “investigates the role accorded to women in art history and reveals how and why Hilma af Klint was scandalously denied the status of a pioneer of modern art,” as it tells the story of how her art was “rediscovered” and unveiled to a modern audience that was ready to finally give her the recognition she deserved.
Director Dyrschka says the documentary – her first feature, though she has directed several shorts – was first sparked when she read a 2013 article about af Klimt, and was fascinated by the idea of such a monumental figure being obscured by history. A few months later, she went to an exhibition of the artist’s work, and she was hooked.
“I was standing in the middle of a hall surrounded by Hilma af Klint’s ‘Ten Largest, altogether 25 meters of paintings, 3.60 meters high,” she says. “And beyond the paintings – a whole world. But why have they been kept from me so long? I almost felt personally insulted when I read that this was a new discovery and the paintings have been hidden for decades.”
She started her research “immediately afterward,” she says, and was surprised by what she learned about the artist.
“Here was a woman who consequently followed her own path in life,” she says. “Despite all restrictions, Hilma af Klint explored the possibilities that go beyond the visible. She knew that she was doing something important not only for herself but for many people.”
“It is more than time to tell the untold heroine stories,” Dyrschka adds. “This is a film about a truly successful life – a woman who was not dependent of the opinion of others, and kept on going her very unique way of living and working.
“Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre goes even beyond art because she was looking for the whole picture of life,” the director concludes. “And with that she comes close to the one question: What are we doing here?”
“Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint” will premiere in the US with an April 10th opening in New York, with other cities to follow.
You can watch the trailer below.