The minimal exhibition design allows af Klint’s extraordinary paintings to take centre stage. Af Klint
was interested in breaking down dualities such as gender, and a group of works exploring the intersecting of female and male energy in blue, yellow and green introduces the artist’s use of text and symbols. The framing of these works allows us to see the way they are constructed, hinting that they may have originally been hung as a series of banners. There is a sense through the whole exhibition that, although this is obviously a museum presentation, there is a sympathy towards the artist’s original vision.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the group of 10 huge paintings, titled The Ten Largest. Hung so
they appear to be levitating towards the viewer, the series begins on the left with blue representing
childhood, moves through vibrant tangerine and lilac, through to a washed-out pink signifying old
age. The sheer scale of these paintings is enveloping and in this setting we can see af Klint’s vigorous brushstrokes, and the fascinating details that pepper her works.
Through the following galleries, we can see af Klint developing and expanding her visual language. Motifs flow from one work to the next, bringing together archaic and futuristic ideas. The Altarpiece triptych, intended for the centre of af Klint’s temple, features gridded pyramids intersecting with gold-leaf sunbursts. They are both diagrammatic and cosmic, medieval and futuristic.
The Secret Paintings concludes with a display of small watercolours that pulsate with quiet
intensity. More spontaneous and gentle than The Paintings for the Temple, they recall the collaborative drawings af Klint made with The Five. The exhibition lays out the bigger picture of af Klint’s practice, from freehand drawing, to meticulous diagrammatic notekeeping.
The layers of secrecy surrounding af Klint’s paintings make for a compelling story, but also serve as a reminder of the fundamental role of artists. As The Secret Paintings shows, af Klint’s willingness to learn, listen and interpret led to the development of a startling new approach.
The intriguing narrative of an unknown woman artist working ahead of her time is sure to draw in the crowds, but it is her paintings that will keep them there.
The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.