Posts Tagged ‘Stones to Stains: The Drawings of Victor Hugo’

Exhibitions | Modernism Before Modernism

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Hilma af Klint, Group IV,
The Ten Largest, No 7,
, 1907,
from untitled series

Tempera on paper
mounted on canvas

Hilma af Klint, Group IX / SUW,
The Swan, No 17, 1915,
from the SUW/UW Series

Oil on canvas

Hilma af Klint, Group V,
The Seven-Pointed
Star, No 1
, 1908,
from The WUS / Seven-
Pointed Star Series

Tempera, gouache
and graphite on paper
mounted on canvas

Hilma af Klint:
Paintings for the Future
Guggenheim Museum
New York City | USA
12 October  >
3 February 2019
Guggenheim Museum


Stones to Stains:
The Drawings of Victor Hugo
Hammer Museum
Los Angeles | USA
27 September >
30 December 2018

Modernism didn’t just happen. It had a history. Full of surprises, and running more-or-less concurrently, these two exhibitions present a fascinating and provocative insight into what happened prior to the emergence of the modernism that we’re all very familiar with.

In 1906, several years before Wassily Kandinsky painted Cossacks – one of the first, widely-recognised, purely abstract works – Swedish artist Hilma af Klint had already begun to create radically abstract paintings. More than half a century earlier French poet, playwright, novelist Victor Hugo had produced a remarkable body of works on paper, which were often indicative, rather than representative of subject matter and that anticipated modernism’s diversity of approach to technique and materials.

Victor Hugo, Abstract
composition with
, c 1864 > 65

Brown ink and wash on paper.
© Bibliothèque
nationale de France

Victor Hugo, Planet, c 1854
Brown ink and wash
over charcoal with white
gouache on paper.
David Lachenmann Collection

Victor Hugo, Silhouette
of a castle struck by
, c 1854 > 57

Stencil cut from
card, with charcoal,
brown ink and wash.
© Bibliothèque
nationale de France

Sharing an interest in the spiritual with Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, among other pioneering modernists, who all sought to surpass the restrictions of the physical world, af Klint was a devotee of Theosophy.

They were rarely seen in public during his lifetime but Hugo (1802 > 1885)  produced over 3,000 graphic works that vacillate between the depiction of landscapes and architecture and the rendering of abstract forms and stains. Often relinquishing composition to chance, he would soak or turn the paper, or allow the ink to pool into serendipitous shapes. He employed stencil and collage and incorporated impressions of a variety of materials such as lace, leaves and even his own fingertips. Hugo may have seen and been influenced by the work of British artist, JMW Turner (1775 > 1851), who, having concerned himself more with surface and light than subject matter, has himself been hailed as a proto-modernist.

Convinced the world wasn’t ready for them, Hilma af Klint (1862 > 1944), who left behind around 1300 non-figurative works, exhibited nothing during her lifetime and stipulated in her will that her paintings should not be shown until 20 years after her death. They were exhibited for the first time in 1986, in Los Angeles.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, while Stones to Stains: The Drawings of Victor Hugo will be on show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Images courtesy the Guggenheim Museum and the Hammer Museum, respectively

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