Archive

Archive for April, 2016

the ‘lost’ Swedish artist Hilma af Klint

April 15th, 2016 1 comment

20160405_163959[1]Regular readers know that this blog occasionally touches on great art exhibitions I chance across, but rarely, as frankly there aren’t that many of them about.

But the new exhibition at the Serpentine of the ‘lost’ Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) is definitely worth celebrating.

Although a pioneer of early abstract art – predating Klee, Kandinsky and many others – she was only rediscovered in the 1980s, as she worked well out of the mainstream. Fearing that she would not be understood, she stipulated that her abstract work should be kept hidden for 20 years after her death. After a few exhibitions around the world, she is now being hailed – rightly – as a maverick and visionary.  Both qualities I value.

Not unlike Yeats and some of the Surrealists, she wove together spiritualist sources that we might now find dubious, from Mme Blavatsky to her mentor, anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, to create art of luminous integrity.

Her abstract paintings, perhaps because she was making up the rules as she went – and she was not part of the 20th century mainstream – feel very different; perhaps her nearest equivalent would be, much later, Sonia Delaunay.

The Paintings for the Temple sequence – which af Klint thought she had been ‘commissioned’ to paint by a celestial entity named Amaliel – are at their most magnificent in the eight large paintings celebrating the passage of life which fill the central gallery at the Serpentine.

20160405_162118The looping circles of colour are matched by her similarly looping handwriting, as if giant pages from a molecular notebook on life – and she worked for a while as a draughtswoman at the veterinary institute in Stockholm in 1900.

To stand in this gallery was one of the most intense artistic experiences I’ve had for some time.

María Rostworowski obituary

April 10th, 2016 No comments

maria.

With her absorbing yet accessible accounts of the Peruvian world before the arrival of the conquistadors, María Rostworowski, who has died aged 100, brought the Incas to life for countless readers. Perhaps more than any intellectual in Peru, she reconfigured our understanding of the ancient Andean mind.

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Her 1953 biography of the Inca emperor Pachacútec paved the way for the more extensive and groundbreaking Historia del Tahuantinsuyu (1988, translated in 1999 as History of the Inca Realm), which deconstructed the suppositions made by some Spanish colonial historians – including the very European idea that the Incas had an empire at all in the Roman, imperial sense. She argued it should be seen more as a trade confederation.

She also showed how Andean principles of kinship wove a complicated thread through Inca politics, which did not observe European principles of primogeniture but instead depended more on a matrilineal line of influence; nobody had written much previously about the mothers of Inca emperors.

María looked for documents that had never been studied before: the bureaucratic records of the courts, censuses and tax registers. Some of the most interesting material she found was in lawsuits brought by claimants just after the conquest. She uncovered a wealth of material, and about a dozen books and countless articles built up a picture of the pre-Columbian world in which the central element of reciprocity was stressed.

see my full obituary in The Guardian