Hilma and the Enigmatic Mathilde N.
- Published: Thursday, 25 September 2014 16:47
Marty Bax – The Netherlands
In 2013, I went to Sweden twice for the retrospective exhibition on Hilma af Klint. The invitation came through the Ax:son Johnson Foundation, founded in 1947 by the late Consul General Axel Ax:son Johnson together with his wife Margaret, owner of the Nordstjernan group. The foundation, led by the highly amiable Kurt Almqvist, facilitates scientific research in general, but in particular the liberal arts and the social sciences. I was deeply impressed by their hospitality and professionalism. The foundation has clearly thought very deeply and constructively about how to inform a wider public about pressing issues in society. Conferences with scholars from all over the world, a website, a magazine, even their own TV channel with the top-Swedish interviewer Thomas Gür, who courteously and tongue-in-cheek said it was his fun ‘to ask stupid questions and get intelligent answers’. All in all, amazing. I wish we had such an institution in my country!
The adventure started in February, when an expert meeting was organized at the opening of the exhibition. The meeting was held in Engelsberg, a top-list Unesco heritage site own by the Ax:son group. Mid-winter, snow-covered landscape in the middle of the woods, paths at night lighted with candles along the sides, in the typically Swedish manner; a truly romantic setting. And a relaxed place to meet many international colleagues from other disciplines. For me personally, my acquaintance with Hilma’s work came full circle, when I met Maurice Tuchman again, who in 1986 organized “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985”. Its venue at The Hague constituted my first job as a curator. That exhibition showed Hilma’s work in public for the first time after World War II.
In May, at the closing of the exhibition, some of the scholars travelled to Stockholm again to lecture at a public conference in the Moderna Museet. The main objective of the conference was to publicly discuss how Hilma af Klint and her art could be understood better and how it should be positioned in her time between the other pioneers of abstract art. The debate intended also to point towards the future. Where does Hilma advance from here? Where should her position be within art history? All of the proceedings and the interviews circling around these basic questions are now on the Axess website. But I want to add a little more to the discussion.