More than a century after she completed her chef d’oeuvre—193 abstract canvases known collectively as Paintings for the Temple—Hilma af Klint is having a big, multi-dimensional moment, one larger even than when the 2018 survey of her paintings at the Guggenheim Museum in New York broke attendance records for the institution, shipped 100,000 copies of the catalogue and sold out the exhibition’s artist merchandise.
Af Klint, the mystic Swedish mother of early-modern abstraction, whose pioneering work remained unrecognised in her lifetime, is the subject of a new biography, by Julia Voss, and of the seventh and final volume of a catalogue raisonné (both published this month); of a biopic, Hilma, opening at cinemas on 28 October; and of a virtual reality (VR) experience, Hilma af Klint: The Temple, which launched this week.
The VR piece is produced by the London-based extended reality studio Acute Art, as is an augmented reality app, Hilma af Klint Walk, which allows visitors to “place” and view 18 digital incarnations of the artist’s large-scale pictures along the path between Frieze London and Frieze Masters in Regent’s Park. In December, the VR experience will be presented in a room-size installation projected on giant screens at the new Outernet music, art and culture centre, in Charing Cross Road, central London. In April 2023, Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondrian opens at Tate Modern, focusing on how the two artists moved, individually, from a figurative study of forms in nature to the “form-ality” of Abstract art.
The Temple VR piece is a “dream project” for Daniel Birnbaum, the artistic director of Acute Art, who curated Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen at Serpentine Galleries in London, in 2016, while he was director of the Moderna Museet, in Stockholm. He is also co-editor, with Kurt Almqvist, of the Af Klint catalogue raisonné, published by Bokförlaget Stolpe. Birnbaum says that he and the team at Stolpe regard the VR piece as the “eighth volume” of their monumental, 1,500-work catalogue.
Af Klint, who dabbled in spiritualism and automatic drawing in a group of Stockholm women artists called the Five, followed Rudolf Steiner, the philosopher of spiritual science, and the mystic Madame Blavatsky into the fashionable, well-funded Theosophical movement. She demonstrated a Theosophist’s concern with geometric and spiral forms in the mass of diagrammatic Temple pictures that she worked on after being asked in a séance in 1906 by a “High Master” to abandon her academic approach to art.
Hilma af Klint: The Temple, delightfully framed and paced by Rodrigo Marques, Acute Art’s creative technologist, with an ambient soundtrack by Andrew Sheriff, takes the viewer on a dreamlike flight through Af Klint’s corkscrew spirals and gridded lattices, up and down Guggenheim-esque ramps where the artist’s brilliantly coloured paintings materialise and animate; and across a sunflower-packed island, based on a real one, between Copenhagen and Malmö, where the artist once hoped to build a temple.
During Frieze London, the public will be able to view the VR experience at the music and art venue Koko, in Camden, north London, on one of 27 Meta Quest 2 VR headsets dotted around its auditorium. The transition between levels parallels the VR user’s transition in The Temple from the Milky Way to the earth and back.
Birnbaum says that the shell-like, spiral-shaped Guggenheim Museum was ideal for showing Af Klint’s paintings. (The museum’s founding curator, Hilla Rebay, who worked closely with Frank Lloyd Wright on its design, was another Theosophist.) VR, with its capacity to display multiple works in ever-evolving digital temples, is, he says, the medium that Af Klint’s work has long been waiting for.
• Hilma Af Klint Walk, in AR: Acute Art app; and Broadwalk, Regent’s Park, until 16 October
• Hilma Af Klint: The Temple, in headset VR: Koko Theatre, 1A Camden High St, London, 13 October; Swedenborg House, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London, 15-16 October; in room-size VR, at Outernet, 138 Charing Cross Rd, London, every Sunday, 11 December 2022-5 February 2023