How Occultism Was a Catalyst for Avant-Garde Art

Twenty-first-century art has seen a proliferation of tendencies that can be collectively referred to as ‘the esoteric turn’. The manifestations of this proclivity show no signs of waning in the 2020s, discerned in the work of legions of contemporary artists, the recuperation of once-dismissed oeuvres, in academic research projects that reveal how occultism was a catalyst for the avant-garde and innumerable thematic institutional exhibitions. Swedish Ecstasy amalgamates all these symptoms, bringing historical figures together with living artists, all of whom originate from Sweden (or in the case of Carsten Höller, reside there). The exhibition’s opening gallery is devoted to a substantial extract from Hilma af Klint’s renowned 193-piece opus Paintings for the Temple (1906–15); this is the first time af Klint has been exhibited in Belgium, but it’s just one of several major European institutional exhibits featuring her work this year. The extent to which af Klint’s legacy has (rightfully) been validated and revived over the past two decades is remarkable, and a similar process of restitution is now taking place in response to the work of Anna Cassel, who collaborated with af Klint both in the studio and in séances as part of a small Christian Spiritualist group known as The Five. Here Cassel is represented by a suite of diagrammatic paintings – all produced over consecutive days in April 1913 – that are built upon Anthroposophical and Rosicrucian symbolism.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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