Guest post by Alyssa Brooks, IU Cinema’s Outreach and Programming Coordinator and Events and Operations Assistant.
As Outreach and Programming Coordinator, I was asked to curate and develop a public program as part of IU Cinema’s spring season. There were no specific guidelines for this project, except that it should be something I’m excited about and could get others excited about, too. The possibilities were almost overwhelmingly endless, and I worried I’d never be able to make a decision.
As soon as I watched Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint, a new documentary about a female abstract painter all but erased from art history, my decision was made. IU Cinema is no stranger to illuminating the lives of incredible women forgotten or diminished by history. We’ve screened Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, about the pioneer filmmaker; Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, focusing on Lamarr’s scientific contributions; and many, many series highlighting the work of women directors and writers. Hilma af Klint’s story would be right at home on our screen.
Beyond the Visible, directed by Halina Dyrschka, is a beautiful celebration of af Klint’s work, a meditation on her genius and the natural and supernatural worlds that ignited it, and a wake-up call to the industry that erased her. Experts featured include artists, historians, critics, and collectors, as well as relatives of af Klint. Every one of them lights up the screen with their joy and fascination with her work and their frustration that she’s been so little regarded until now. In the film, art critic Julia Voss says:
“In male art history, it’s all about genius. But ‘genius’ excluded women, because women had no genius. They could do pretty still lifes of flowers, or a nice portrait, or a successful landscape, but not a ‘work of genius.’”
Like so many women through history and across disciplines, Hilma af Klint could not simply pursue her genius; she had to confound society’s attempts to suppress it along the way. She could study art in school, but wasn’t allowed to attend nude figure drawing sessions. She did it anyway, on her own time. She was allowed to be an artist, but only until she married. She never married. She was allowed to be an artist, but only if her work was useful and profitable. She abandoned naturalistic and commercially palatable work utterly and permanently, with no half measures, as soon as she realized her “strong and powerful work” could only be in the abstract. She wrote in one of her many notebooks: “The world keeps you in fetters; cast them aside.”
Hilma af Klint was a spiritualist who conducted seances and sought to transcend the realm of men. She believed many of her best works were not created by her, but through her by one of the spirits she referred to as the High Masters. She was convicted in her belief that her work was not of this world, and she elected to keep it out of the world as much as possible. She left her entire oeuvre to her nephew, forbidding its display until 20 years after her death, and insisting it never be sold. One could argue she was not erased from art history, but instead that she erased herself.
Courtney Kezlarian, an art historian and arts administrator who will be joining me for a post-film discussion on Thursday, doesn’t think so. She points out that beliefs like af Klint’s have been dangerous for women throughout history; af Klint likely knew that wide knowledge of her occult-inspired, highly unusual work would expose her to derision and threaten her freedom and independence. She didn’t erase herself; she preserved herself. Her collection remains completely intact and off the market, and it finally exists in a world that’s ready for it. The Guggenheim’s 2018-2019 exhibition of her work, Paintings for the Future—which led to the making of Beyond the Visible—was the museum’s most-attended exhibition of all time. We are in the future Hilma af Klint painted toward, and I am so thrilled that IU Cinema’s screen will be graced with her profound, mysterious, radiant work this Thursday.
Beyond the Visible screens Thursday, March 5 at 7 pm. This screening is free, but ticketed. Post-screening discussion guests include Jennifer McComas, Curator of European and American Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, and Courtney Kezlarian, Development Assistant at the Mathers Museum, MPA-MAAA ‘20, BA Art History.
Alyssa Brooks is IU Cinema’s Outreach and Programming Coordinator and Events and Operations Assistant. She completed her bachelor’s degree in voice performance at the University of Evansville, and is working toward her master’s in arts administration here at Indiana University. Her favorite film experience at IU Cinema so far was Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019).