The Swiss spiritualist Emma Kunz, who was known in her lifetime as a telepathic healer and created drawings by consulting a pendulum, is the subject of a major new exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery that aims to introduce her enigmatic art and life to a wider audience. The exhibition includes around 65 of her mandala-like, geometric drawings, which were selected by the curator Melissa Blanchflower and the Greek artist Christodoulos Panayiotou.
In the past, Kunz’s drawings have been shown alongside artists such as the Swedish occultist Hilma af Klint and the US painter Agnes Martin, artists that “shared an interest in exploring abstract forms in nature and looked at nature through a micro and macro lens”, Blanchflower says. But unlike these artists, Kunz was self-taught and never intended her work to be shown in a fine arts context.
None of Kunz’s drawings are dated or titled, although their meaning and purpose are recorded in books she made detailing their medicinal uses. “Although her books are beautifully presented, Kunz never read art books or went to museums as far as we know,” Blanchflower says. “Kunz primarily used the drawings for healing rituals, placing the drawings between her and the other person.”
There’s an increasing appetite for different forms of meditative practice and work that makes us ponder the equilibrium of the cosmos
After her death in 1963, Kunz’s belongings were safeguarded by her relative Anton Meier, who founded the Emma Kunz Centre in Würenlos in 1986. The centre holds and displays most of Kunz’s work and is on the site of an ancient Roman grotto Kunz discovered in 1942 and named Aion A. The mineral composition of the grotto—made up mostly of calcium carbonate and silicic acid from quartz—helped heal Meier from infantile paralysis and has since been sold online and in Swiss pharmacies as a cure for rheumatic diseases, muscle and joint pain, and inflammatory conditions.
For the exhibition, Panayiotou travelled to the centre and extracted stone from the grotto to build benches that will be placed in the Serpentine “to energise the space and encourage visitors to spend time meditating with the work”, Blanchflower says.
The show is an overdue representation of the artist, marking her first solo exhibition since the 1970s and the first time her work is being shown in the UK. “We’re in a climate where art is much more porous and people are embracing work that has been written off by the history books,” Blanchflower says. “There’s an increasing appetite for different forms of meditative practice and work that makes us ponder the equilibrium of the cosmos.”
The main sponsor of the show is Pictet, with additional support from the Fiorucci Art Trust, Bloomberg Philanthropies and other donors.
• Emma Kunz, Serpentine Gallery, London 23 March-19 May