June 11 – August 13, 2005
3 x ABSTRACTION: NEW METHODS OF DRAWING
by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin
“At this moment I have knowledge of, in the living reality, that I am an atom in the universe that has access to infinite possibilities of development. These possibilities I want, gradually, to reveal.” Hilma af Klint
“Everything happens in accordance with a specific system of law, which I feel within me, and which never allows me to rest.” Emma Kunz
“There is only the all of the all/everything is that/every infinitesimal thought and action is part and parcel.” Agnes Martin
From June 11 through August 13 the Santa Monica Museum of Art presents 3 x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin. The 100 rarely seen – and in some instances the first public presentation of – paintings, drawings, and watercolors in this major historical exhibition illuminate the extraordinary contributions Hilma af Klint (Sweden, 1862 – 1944), Emma Kunz (Switzerland, 1892 – 1963), and Agnes Martin (Canada, 1912 – 2004) made to abstract art. Three artists of different generations use distinctive formal devices – particularly line, grid, and geometry – to visualize and transform complex philosophical, scientific, and metaphysical ideas into powerful and transcendent works of art.
The exhibition focuses on a specific period of production within the life of each artist – af KlintÔø?s spare and evocative compositions made between 1895 and 1920 – KunzÔø?s complex large-scale drawings based on mathematical geometries – and meditative early grids by Martin primarily from the 1960s when the grid was first emerging as a focus of her work. 3 x Abstraction introduces a wider public to the seminal, inspirational work af Klint and Kunz, and presents intriguing new perspectives on the oeuvre of Agnes Martin. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 275-page catalog co-published by The Drawing Center and Yale University Press.
Hilma af Klint
Born in 1862 in Karlberg, Sweden, Hilma af Klint studied first at The Polytechnic School, now the Swedish School of Arts, Crafts, and Design, transferring in 1882 to the Academy of Fine Arts, where she remained for five years. After completing her education, she earned her living largely through the sale of traditional landscapes, still lifes, and portrait paintings. Around 1879, just before she entered the Polytechnic, af Klint was drawn into a circle of spiritualists and began attending sÔø?ances in Stockholm, eventually becoming a member of the Theosophical Society. Around 1887, together with four women friends, af Klint formed a group known as “The Five.”
Prefiguring Surrealist practices, The Five engaged in weekly sÔø?ances during which automatic drawings – sometimes in the form of cadavre exquis group works – were made as early as 1892. af KlintÔø?s experimentation with “automatic drawings” inspired her to turn to abstraction. By 1907, when The Five ceased their practice, there were 121 books filled with notes and drawings from their sessions. af Klint also kept small-scale records of each of her larger-format paintings in a series of ten “Blue Books.” af KlintÔø?s early twentieth-century work relates to Russian and European abstract painters (such as Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky), who likewise drew inspiration from theosophy as well as science.
Later, af Klint studied the work of Rudolf Steiner and became interested in Anthroposophy, SteinerÔø?s concept of life as an evolution towards a balance between opposing forces, which he also applied to forms and colors. Over the years, she cultivated her role as an artist, healer, and spiritual seeker, investigating what she considered to be the invisible sphere of existence. The evolutionary idea of so-called “dual-truth” was, according to af Klint, a longing for unity that followed from the recognition of the duality of the world and of the human condition. This longing was reflected in the evolution of the soul towards the deepest state of its “being-in-relation,” in which it would achieve mutuality and oneness. Under this conception, all religions are simply different ways towards unity: “God is not a being but a power, not a creature but an eternity, not something with form but a life that can assume an endless number of forms,” af Klint would write. Her drawings and watercolors were intended to lead the viewer onto other levels of awareness, beyond those known from two-dimensional illusionism and three-dimensional reality and onto glimpses of the fourth-dimension, in which the understanding of space would increase and illusory perceptions disappear.
af Klint died in 1944, leaving a legacy of more than 1,000 paintings and drawings with the stipulation that her “secret” production should be withheld from public presentation for twenty years after her death.
Born into a family of weavers in 1892 in Brittnau in the Swiss Canton of Aargau, Emma Kunz was a prolific artist and a powerful healer. For her, the two practices of drawing and healing were inextricably linked. Kunz had no formal art training but was for many years (from 1923 to 1939) the housekeeper for, and later the companion of, the prominent painter and art critic Jacob Friedrich Welti (1871 – 1952). In 1910, Kunz began making her first drawings in school exercise books and experimenting with telepathy, prophecy, and healing. She also took up radiesthesia, the practice of divining with a pendulum. In 1938, Kunz created the first of her series of large, square drawings on millimeter graph paper, utilizing the pendulum to start and plan each of her geometric configurations in color crayon. She completed the drawings in one continuous session that could last over twenty-four hours. The grid-based works were created in acts of abstracting and drawing from things both transparent and external to consciousness. Tracing highly complex networks of relations, the drawings are compelling notations of KunzÔø?s mental labor.
The accumulation, the sheer prolixity, of KunzÔø?s straight lines provides an intense sensation of vibration in the viewerÔø?s scope of vision. As if pulsating and wavering, the tracings seem to engender actual kinetic movement. Kunz considered her drawings to be cognitive mappings of energy fields from which she could formulate diagnoses for her patients. To that end, she would detach a given drawing from the wall and place it on the floor between herself and the patient. The pictures functioned as diagrams and aids to meditation for the locating of the patientsÔø? so-called lifelines, guiding Kunz in the answering of their questions.
In 1953, Kunz published, at her own expense, two books: The Miracle of Creative Revelation and the New Method of Drawing, from which the subtitle of this exhibition is derived. Her first exhibition, entitled The Case of Emma Kunz, suggested that, ten years after her death in 1963, she continued to be perceived as an artistic outsider. Yet Kunz had prophetically stated: “My pictures are for the twenty-first century.”
The granddaughter of Scottish pioneers who headed West in covered wagons, Agnes Martin seemed destined for a life of hard work. Born in 1912 on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, she came to study in New York in 1941. Martin differs from Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz in terms of both education and recognition, as the latter two artists were for the most part self-taught and remained largely unknown during their lifetimes. Although Martin enjoyed wide recognition, her artistic success eventually came to be felt as a burden. In 1967, she left New York to travel for a year throughout the United States and Canada. During this period, she made no art at all: “Instead I meditated. I searched for the truth. I search for the truth all the time, but I gave it extra time then.” Eventually settling in New Mexico, the artist, after a seven-year hiatus, began to paint again.
Years earlier, when Martin began painting and drawing, she found herself dissatisfied with the landscapes she was making. In the mid-1950s, she moved to abstraction and began making her mesmerizing grids. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Martin came to be interested in Asian philosophies. She read books by the Japanese scholar D.T. Suzuki and the Taoist philosophers Chuang-tzu and Lao-tzu, and listened to lectures by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Although Martin never practiced non-Western spiritual disciplines, she admired the Taoist goal of eliminating egotism – thought to be the source of all suffering – and drew on these ideas in her work.
MartinÔø?s concern with issues of wholeness and unity are evident in the way she deploys the grid. Her work has been described as leading the viewer into contemplative spaces where the processes of making and viewing become fused. A careful phenomenological reading of MartinÔø?s paintings reveals “sequences of illusions of textures that change as viewing distance changes.” Her work concerns the relational space of response in the act of seeing and sensing, the space of perception – in the sense of both awareness and vision. Martin complemented her artistic practice with extensive writings about her own work: “My work is about emotion…not personal emotion, abstract emotion. ItÔø?s about those subtle moments of happiness we all experience.”
3 x Abstraction is organized by co-curators Catherine de Zegher, director of The Drawing Center, New York, and writer and independent curator Hendel Teicher.
Tuesday, June 28, 7 pm
Author and independent scholar Erik Davis explores the roots of artistic abstraction in the occult movements of the late 19th century, showing how they help found a spiritual modernism whose implications continue to reverberate today.
Automatic Drawing Brought Forth through the Ouija Board
Thursday, July 14, 6 – 10 pm
A project by Christian Cummings, assisted by Michael Decker. Audience participation throughout the evening upon request.