If, in a post-Hidden Figures world, anyone still doubts that there are countless stories of amazing, accomplished women out there just waiting to be told, have them watch Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint. Halina Dyrschka’s fascinating documentary introduces viewers to a groundbreaking Swedish artist whom it’s safe to say that few have ever heard of — despite the fact that her work upends everything you thought you knew about abstract art.
In a film overflowing with striking visuals, perhaps the most stunning sequence comes fairly early on in the film, when some of af Klint’s works — which remained largely unseen/unknown until well after her death in 1944 (at least partly by her own design) — are juxtaposed with those of well-known abstract pioneers like Kandinsky, Mondrian, and even Warhol. You’d swear that her techniques and compositions were inspired by theirs … except for the fact that her work predates all of the other pieces it’s compared to.
How does something like this happen — and what does it mean for art history? Various experts — including curators, historians, artists, and more — weigh in on af Klint’s profound significance and the repercussions of her work on the art world as Dryschka lets the story of her subject’s life unfold. By all accounts, including many passages from her own extensive journals/notebooks, af Klint was a thoughtful, spiritual woman who was captivated by the natural world. From sketched studies to large-scale paintings, her art explored everything from gender to flowers to the structure of the atom.
Af Klint amassed thousands of paintings and drawings in her lifetime, occasionally showing some of them on a small scale — but never her abstract pieces; those she directed to be kept under wraps until 20 years after her death. Even after they came to light in the 1960s, it took more than 20 years for a museum to include them in an influential exhibition. Now many in the art world understand af Klint’s true significance, but will her talent (and Dryschka’s film) truly rewrite art history? That remains to be seen.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale She may have been ignored by history until recently, but by more humanist measures, as in the ability to inspire, move witnesses of her vision, and cause introspection and internal queries, Hilma af Klint is incredibly successful. It takes films like Beyond the Visible to enlighten the world about hidden treasures in history. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Halina Dyrschka’s documentary delves into the work of a profoundly gifted, accomplished and innovative early 20th century women artist, Hilma af Klint. Adept as a realist, af Klint created wonderful portraits of her contemporaries and perfectly accurate images of insects and flowers, but her artist’s perception and intuition also transcended what is visible in ‘the natural world,’ and explored the invisible reality of atoms and energy in marvelous abstract paintings — predating those of Wassily Kandinsky, known as the ‘father of abstract art.’ In chronicling af Klint’s life, following the evolution of her aesthetic and establishes her well-deserved place in male-dominated art history, the film addresses the ways in which the art world — and society in general — has failed (and still fails) to recognize and embrace the work of female artists — to the detriment of culture world wide. The eye-opening film presents an implicit and undeniable demand for change. Brava, Hilma af Klint. Thank you, Haline Dyrschka.
Nell Minow: “The grandeur of her creative vision,” one expert days in this provocative story of an overlooked artist. Dismissed by MOMA because she never had an exhibition during her lifetime, Hilma af Kiint was a remarkable woman whose dedication to pushing the boundaries of art was only a part of what made her story so powerful. This welcome look at her work includes not only her extraordinary images but some thoughtful exploration of what makes art acceptable to to the critics, curators, and historians who interpret creative work.
Loren King Director Halina Dyrschka’s fascinating documentary is an illuminating introduction to a major artist all but erased from modern art history. Beyond the Visible should reach the general public as a needed and welcome corrective to art history, shining a light on yet another dynamic, trailblazing woman denied her rightful place in history, until now. Read full review.
Marina Antunes We know that history is sometimes flawed. Regardless of how many rocks are overturned, how many people are interviewed, how sure we are we have the full picture, there’s always more to the story and more often than not, it seems that the missing pieces involve women. Just recently we saw history reviewed with Alice Guy-Blaché and Hedy Lamarr and now artist Hilma af Klint is getting her due in Halina Dyrschka’s documentary Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint which provides a textbook-like visual history of Klint’s work, highlighting a fraction of the artist’s output (it would be impossible to show it all!), and puts into context the importance of af Klint’s visionary and groundbreaking abstract art, making a great case for why the MoMA needs to re-visit their history of the art form.
Pam Grady: Inspired equally by science, especially the physics of the atom, and spiritualism, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), created over her career an astonishing collection of colorful, eye-popping paintings. Her work predates that of Wassily Kandinsky, commonly credited with being the “father” of abstract painting. And maybe he was, but Klimt was the mother – and her first work in the form predated his by several years. Yet, she remains known to but a few, her work rarely exhibited during her lifetime and often rejected by museums in our contemporary era – because her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime (as if exhibition and the quality of an artist’s work are somehow related). Halina Dyrschka’s documentary is all encompassing, the work of a filmmaker determined to bring Klint’s arresting legacy to light. It is an in-depth biography of an artist who set her own course in the world during an era when few women could claim such agency. It also places Klint’s work within context of her contemporaries like Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian and explores how the patriarchy of the art world has historically suppressed women artists and continues to do so. Interviews with art world figures and Klint’s surviving relatives and excerpts from her journals help tell the story, but what speaks loudest in Dyrschka’s film is the art itself, work that still stuns so many decades later.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint is the story of a remarkable, pioneering artist that almost no one has ever heard of, because she was a woman. Swedish artist Hilma af Klint’s first abstract painting in 1906 preceded Wassily Kandinsky’s “historic” 1911 painting by five years. But as documentary director Halina Dryschka’s film reveals, her name is nowhere to be found in the definitive art history books. By interviewing mostly women art historians, curators, and collectors, Dryschka chronicles just how pioneering af Klint (an aristocratic, unmarried woman artist) was, even if she has been denied a place in the male-dominated canon of art. Thanks to an influential woman curator, af Klint’s works (which are prohibited from being sold to permanent collections) are finally getting exhibited around the world and garnering attention. A fascinating aspect of the documentary is af Klint’s spiritualism and how she incorporated it into her art, which is concerned with life’s most essential questions. Everyone who sees the documentary will want to see an exhibit of her work, particularly the larger-than-life The Ten Biggest.
MaryAnn Johanson Here we go again: Another woman pioneer erased from history, her work and reputation in need of rehabilitation. Thank you, Halina Dyrschka, for bringing us the story of this groundbreaking artist, and for doing so with such visual flair and such compelling storytelling. I’m so tired of the constant reminders of how women’s achievements are forgotten, and so grateful for those who are doing the hard work of bringing them back into the fold of history. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint challenges the notion that the art world was male dominated. While men control the historical narrative, relatively unknown artist Hilma Af Klint was equal parts artist and scientific researcher. Her ability to be far ahead of the creative curve is astounding. The doc uses beautifully composed close up shots juxtaposed with Hilma’s extensive collection. She created everything from portraits to medical drawings, children’s illustrations to her large scale abstract paintings, and much more. As the daughter of an artist and art history major, I am floored at the sheer amount of work and the variety of styles she mastered. One would never suspect this was the genius of a single artist. Beyond The Visible: Hilma Af Klint is an extraordinary doc that will rewrite the history of the art world.
Cate Marquis Director Halina Dyrshchka’s remarkable documentary highlights Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, whose first abstract painting in 1906 predates the 1911 first abstract work by Wassily Kandinsky, historically considered the founder of abstract art. If Hilma af Klint’s name is not familiar, that is not surprising, as her work was hidden for years and only recently came to light. Noting the groundbreaking nature of af Klint’s recently discovered art, as well as its astonishing quality, one of the documentary’s art experts says “So, let’s re-write art history.” Yes, lets – but that turns out to be not so easy, as this engrossing documentary reveals. This thoroughly enjoyable and informative documentary not only spotlights the work and life of Hilma af Klint, but also explores the position of women in the art world then and now, historical barriers they faced, and how the narrative of art history is still influenced by that legacy. Beyond the Visible offers a visual banquet of af Klint’s striking works, an overlooked genius and true rebel of her time who combined art and science in a way rarely seen, as well as an excellent look at the real reason why there are so few women artists in the history books.
Title: Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint
Directors: Halina Dyrschka
Release Date: April 10. 2020
Running Time: 94 minutes
Language: Engligh, Swedish and German (with English subtitles)
Distribution Company: Zeitgeist Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin