Hilma af Klint at the Serpentine

To the Gallery Directors

Too little information was given on what Klint’s spiritual beliefs were. When I viewed the exhibition no catalogs were available, and the displayed information was unilluminating. Accordingly I spent a considerable time trying to decode the symbolism of the colourways, and recurring motifs that seemed to bear consistent meanings across series, particularly what I imagine to be her ideas about the respective spheres of manifest and immanent life, and their interactions. While I gained greatly from the exhibition, I was left tantalised by the question marks that arose.

When finally the reprinted catalog arrived I was disappointed that it didn’t include any meaningful semiotic commentary on the individual paintings /series nor even more than a cursory explication /translation of the Swedish words that occur, or the possible significance of individual letters beyond a general overview.

It seems clear that central to comprehending Klint's pictures is her view of the relationship between the physical and metaphysical worlds. This hardly featured in the catalog beyond a reference to her influence by Steiner, but no real clue as to how or what specific aspects, or indeed any other than passing references to other esoteric ideas current at that time. Not to explore and set forth a credible view of what the artist herself may have intended by creating her work is to reduce it to its surfaces. These are indeed very striking, and it is doubly interesting that she was a woman creating abstract work a decade before men - yet unless we are put in touch with the conceptual-perceptual nexus of Klint’s complex moral motivation we cannot truly enter the pictures nor intuit them their deeper interior meaning/s.  

To me, what makes her work even more interesting and timely for today is that as a woman Klint was not seeking to compete in the male dominated aesthetics of her age; but by not helping to decode more fully what her unique value system was and to present it in contradistinction you do little to assist those making a similar journey today, and merely reinforce the traditional cultural value system that assigns overwhelming predominance to masculine perceptions and proprioceptions, while considering the work of dissidents (& nearly all women) as also ran.

I’m sure you will bridle at this, and assert the role of the Serpentine in championing women. But I am moved to write because I think that even where women are heard it still continues to be very much on men’s terms; and thus the subject of my comments is a sin of omission rather than commission, yet its omission is significant in the broader scheme of things because here was a women who chose to evolve and express a very personal set of meanings that were esoteric in character. So this was a gesamtkunstwerk was as-it-were behind double doors. Opening the outer door has been a worthwhile effort, and I am glad it has been so well-received everywhere, but that work is not complete until the inner door is also opened connecting the works’ surfaces with their feeling-world.