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Hilma af Klint: Tree of Knowledge

Introduction by Julia Voss
Published by David Zwirner Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

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About The Book

The first detailed survey of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint’s groundbreaking Tree of Knowledge series

“Revelatory and sublime. . . . Her work remains conceptually open enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions, insert their own meaning and feel transported to other glorious worlds.” —The New York Times
One of the most inventive artists of the twentieth century, af Klint was a pioneer of abstraction. Her first forays into nonobjective painting preceded the work of Kandinsky and Mondrian and radically mined the fields of science and religion. Deeply interested in spiritualism and philosophy, af Klint developed an iconography that explores esoteric concepts in metaphysics, as demonstrated in Tree of Knowledge. This rarely seen series of works on paper renders orbital, enigmatic forms, visual allegories of unification and separateness, darkness and light, beginning and end, life and death, and spirit and matter.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Hilma af Klint: Tree of Knowledge at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021 and David Zwirner, London, in 2022, this book features a text by the art historian Susan Aberth examining af Klint’s spiritual and theosophical influences. With a conversation between curator Helen Molesworth and the US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo discussing connections between Tree of Knowledge and Native theories, the publication broadens the scope of philosophical interpretations of af Klint's timeless work. Also included is a newly commissioned essay by the celebrated af Klint scholar Julia Voss, a contribution by the artist Suzan Frecon, and a text by art historian Max Rosenberg that further develops the conversation around why af Klint’s work was not recognized in its time.

About The Authors

Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) is now regarded as a pioneer of abstract art. Though her paintings were not seen publicly until 1987, her work from the early 20th century predates the first purely abstract paintings by Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich. Af Klint was born in Solna, outside Stockholm, and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm from 1882 to 1888. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s 2018 survey of af Klint’s work was the first major solo exhibition in the United States devoted to the artist, offering an unprecedented opportunity to experience af Klint’s long-underrecognized artistic achievements. 

Susan Aberth is the Edith C. Blum Professor in the Art History and Visual Culture Program at Bard College. Her publications include The Tarot of Leonora Carrington, co-authored with Mexican curator Tere Arcq, and Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art. She has contributed to the publications Witchcraft; Not Without My Ghosts; Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist; Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvelous; and Leonora Carrington and the International Avant-Garde, among others. Her work has also appeared in Artforum, Journal of Surrealism of the Americas, Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, and Black Mirror.

Suzan Frecon is an artist known for abstract oil paintings and works on paper. She was born in 1941 in Mexico, Pennsylvania.

Max Rosenberg is an art historian and associate director of research and exhibitions at David Zwirner. He has worked on exhibitions on Josef Albers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, William Eggleston, Paul Klee, Giorgio Morandi, Raymond Pettibon, and Christopher Williams, among others. He has received grants and awards from the Dedalus Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Getty Research Institute, among other institutions. His writings have appeared in various publications, including The Getty Research Journal, Texte zur Kunst, and Art in America.

A poet, musician, playwright, author, and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo is currently serving as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, her second term as Poet Laureate. She has written nine books of poetry and two memoirs, and has edited several anthologies of Native American writing.

Helen Molesworth is a Los Angeles–based writer, podcaster, and curator. Her major museum exhibitions include: Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, and Work Ethic. She has organized monographic exhibitions of Ruth Asawa, Moyra Davey, Noah Davis, Louise Lawler, Steve Locke, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, and Luc Tuymans. She is the author of numerous catalogue essays and her writing has appeared in Artforum, Art Journal, Documents, and October. The recipient of the 2011 Bard Center for Curatorial Studies Award for Curatorial Excellence, in 2021 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 2022 she was awarded The Clark Art Writing Prize.

Product Details

  • Publisher: David Zwirner Books (May 9, 2023)
  • Length: 112 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644230848

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Raves and Reviews

“A beautiful catalog. . . illustrates the imagined systems that connect living beings”

– Los Angeles Review of Books

"Ten Mother's Day gifts for her dream evening, whether that's in the tub or on the town"

– The Wall Street Journal

“Her work remains conceptually open enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions, insert their own meaning and feel transported to other glorious worlds”

– The New York Times

“revelatory and sublime”

– The New York Times

“An arboreal silhouette anchors each image, attended by spheres, pyramids, and shapes that suggest cellular structures. Delicately rendered birds and flowers recall both the decorative motifs of Art Nouveau and the filigree of illuminated manuscripts.”

– The New Yorker

“rapturous coda to the Guggenheim’s 2018 af Klint blockbuster”

– The New Yorker

“I left the show believing that af Klint was genuinely telegraphing a more sustainable, equitable future for us all: a “new period” of spiritual awareness that we all need now more than ever before.”

– Artforum

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