By Margot Clark-Junkinse
Two Swedish artists are calling your name this holiday season.
One, Helena Hernmarck, is a contemporary textile artist who has installed a loom inside one of the galleries at the Aldrich Museum in her home town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. The other, Hilma af Klint, is a “rediscovered” painter who was active in Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century. An exhibit of her works is at the Guggenheim in Manhattan. Each artist bathes your eyes in color and wows you with innovative ideas and technical prowess. Their art has much to offer us now, during these dark days (the winter solstice, of course…did you think I meant something else?).
On certain days at the Aldrich, you can actually watch Helena Hernmarck weaving, which is a lyrical sight and fascinating from a mechanical standpoint. Behind her, there is a striking floor-to-ceiling photograph of her studio shelves stuffed with skeins of wool in every color of the rainbow. Her finished works, called woven tapestries, are remarkable for their photo-realism. Have you ever met someone who said, hey, let me try to weave something that looks just like a photograph? Probably not, because weaving does not lend itself to that kind of thinking. Hernmarck has raised the bar and leapt right over it. Pink and red anemones practically leap off the dark woven background. One tapestry of a young boy is rendered entirely in black, white, and gray, resembling a black-and-white snapshot (it is telling that this particular piece belongs to the famed textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen). Her sketches and watercolor designs provide an important layer of appreciation for the planning and technical considerations that go into weaving. Organized by Richard Klein, exhibitions director at The Aldrich, “Helena Hernmarck: Weaving in Progress” remains on view through January 27 and is fun for all ages.
Someone on Instagram posted a photo of a beautiful and very modern-looking painting from the exhibition “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” at the Guggenheim Museum. Underneath the photo, the Instagrammer wrote simply, “In the Church of Hilma.” Well, yes, that is exactly right. Hilma af Klint was born in Stockholm in 1862 and graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1887. She quickly established herself as a traditional painter but shifted gears dramatically upon her discovery of spiritualism and Theosophy. It was at this time that she formed an occultist group called The Five; the women believed they could communicate with otherworldly beings who sent them messages through automatic drawings. The Guggenheim exhibit focuses on her “breakthrough” years, 1906-1920. The canvases — some exceedingly large — are filled with biomorphic shapes and broad planes of color. It is astonishing to learn that af Klint actually preceded modern abstract painters like Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. When the artist died in 1944, she left instructions for her entire body of work — over 1,200 paintings and works on paper and notes from 124 notebooks — to be withheld from public view for 20 years, until the public was readier for her vision. “What is the message?” wrote another Instagrammer. “A mystery now, somewhere inside me.” Organized by Tracey Bashkoff, Director of Collections and Senior Curator, the exhibit will remain on view through April 23, but don’t wait…this is a joyful, thoughtful way to ring in the New Year.
Helena Hernmarck, Anemones, wool, linen, cotton, 1985.
Courtesy of the artist
Installation view: Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York