Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondrian – Forms of Life review: Two extraordinary artists, crossing briefly in the story of modern art

The Tate’s show is a fascinating pairing, but it feels like Af Klint’s moment in the sun is beginning

Mark Hudson
Wednesday 19 April 2023 14:19 BST
<p>Hilma af Klint’s The Evolution, The WUS Seven-Pointed Star Series, Group VI, No 15 from 1908 </p>

Hilma af Klint’s The Evolution, The WUS Seven-Pointed Star Series, Group VI, No 15 from 1908

When Hilma af Klint had her first substantial British showing at the Serpentine Gallery in 2016, she appeared a fascinating if very niche figure. The early 20th-century Swedish mystical painter had produced completely abstract paintings at around the same time, if not slightly earlier, than Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian and the other great dons of Modernism.

The fact that Af Klint was a spiritualist medium whose works had, she believed, been “commissioned” by higher powers, seemed to confine her relevance to a quirky substratum of Modern Art; a kind of rarefied “outsider” artist. The fact that her paintings had remained hidden, at the artist’s request, until 20 years after her death in 1944, was all part of the wacky back story.

Seven tumultuous years after that Serpentine show – a period in which established cultural canons have been challenged at every turn – Af Klint is now definitively established as the First Abstract Artist. Her paintings’ spiritual origins, meanwhile, seem on trend with a new visionary turn in art. This is evident in everything from Marguerite Humeau’s speculative realities, currently showing at White Cube, to Jadé Fadojutimi’s Manga-inspired abstract mindscapes, which command the highest prices of any young British painter of recent times.

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