Home Magazine A New History of Abstract Art in Munich

It’s certainly not surprising news just how important the work of many female artists was throughout art history. But among famous name such as Sonia Delaunay, Carol Rama, Louise Bourgeois, Varvara Federovna Stepanova and many more, there are also many female personalities assigned under the wrong artistic movements. At the Munich Lenbachhaus, Karin Althaus and Sebastian Schneider are curating an exhibition that sheds new light on European abstractionism.

Discover more about the latest experimentation in the Abstract Art Field.

A mix between spiritualism, a fascination for the occult and artistic experimentation led the two curators to choose the works of Hilma af Klint, Georgiana Houghton and Emma Kunz to analyse. Usually attributed to Wassily Kandinsky, the paternity of abstractionism requires a reevaluation and a change of perspective. In that era, the modern female art scene was taking its first steps, spreading outwards from Victorian Britain towards Sweden, where the indecipherable Hilma af Klint is certainly owed the title as the mother of abstract art. Despite some conceptual aspects in common with Kandinsky (also a fervent spiritualist), her path was undertaken largely autonomously, so we can speak of feminine abstractionism, developed almost in parallel to the "classic" of the Blaue Reiter.

Don't miss our article  "Abstract Art: Boundless Territory To Create".

From its title, "World Receivers", we can understand the particularity of the exhibited artists who considered themselves as catalysts of a particular energy to be translated into painting or graphics; to communicate with the souls of the afterlife; to launch a message of harmony between humanity and nature, the Earth and the Sky. This was all undertaken in an attempt to save humanity from the moral crisis in which it had already fallen in the second half of the nineteenth century. To others, did this suggest madness, or a search for utopia?


Hilma af Klint


The result, in any case, is a brilliant and innovative artistic itinerary that, if rediscovered with care, can rewrite a chapter of art history.

Take a glance at recent abstract artwork on Kooness: Hilary HerrmannBarbara WeirGloria Petyarre.

A photographer by passion, a spiritualist by vocation and an artist by consequence. Thus we can summarise the career of Georgiana Houghton, an ardent Londoner who adhered to Spiritualism also because it offered her a way of escape from the family routine (in the mid-nineteenth century, a female movement was born in England that would evolve into the Suffragettes).

In the wake of a female emancipation that, at least in Northern Europe, was increasing its scope, the art scene was enriched with other figures interested in the mixture between painting and occultism. This was part of a widespread sensibility in that era, which led, for example, Joseph Péladan to design the Rose-Croix movement, and then to organise in Paris a Salon of esoteric or symbolist art. In reaction to Positivism, reality was banished from the new direction of art, which had to be mystical, idealistic and endowed with a strong sense of aesthetics, and which had for its subjects mythological, oneiric, allegorical scenes, often derived from literature. For example, the Secession was largely this, but it was not the only face of an esoteric and abstract art that developed in Europe at the end of the century.


Georgiana Houghton


At least ten years before Kandinsky, the Swedish Hilma af Klint developed the first examples of a painting that was entirely "non-objective" that would later be called abstract art, going beyond Houghton also from a theoretical point of view: it adhered to Anthroposophy, departign from the Theosophy on which it was formed. This implied a painting focused on human psychology, on its need for completeness and harmony. It was conceived around the dialogue between opposites, recalling the relationship between Ying and Yang, the circular forms referring to the cycles of nature and the cosmos and, when they appears, the figurative aspects are linked to Masonic or esoteric symbols.

On the other hand, the geometric abstractionism of the Swiss artist Emma Kunz, a follower of the holistic theory of cosmic energy, attracted to particular areas of the Earth; also the graph paper that she used for her drawings became a receptor of the genre, and it was through the oscillation method of a pendulum that she chose the points from which to begin to draw, constructing symmetry with mathematical proportions.


Emma Kunz


From the innovative works of these three artists comes a mystical conception of the art that they had in common, a direct consequence of the historical and social period they lived, among the first signs of a female awareness - which would then find its feet in the 20th Century - and the political crisis that would lead to the Great War, totalitarianism and the Second World War. Set against this social backdrop feminine art, imbued with maternal spirituality, was recognisable in the way in which the three artists felt invested in a cultural mission that went beyond their works. In these signs, shapes and geometries the strength of a social message of peace, of harmony, of encouragement to look forward is expressed. It is done so with graceful traits, but at the same time dramatic, dreamlike, now curvilinear now angular, with images often blurred or overlapping. An extreme, courageous attempt to soften the controversial Europe of modernity.


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.