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UNIVERSAL PICTURES: THE ART OF HILMA AF KLINT

Hilma af Klint, The Swan, No. 21, Group IX/SUW, 1915, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 x 60 1/4".

The idea of a secret masterpiece seems ludicrous. Indeed, as Marcel Duchamp famously argued, a work of art needs to be known in order to be: Its existence depends on “the artist on the one hand, and on the other, the spectator who later becomes the posterity.” The viewer’s contribution, he maintained, is equal in importance to the artist’s, and in the long run perhaps even greater, because, as he put it elsewhere, “it is posterity that makes the masterpiece.” Now try to imagine a situation in which one of these elements is missing. It begins to sound like an art koan: What happens to a work without anyone to see it? Without an audience, the work would seem to exist in a diminished and wanting state of expectancy, waiting for posterity’s deliverance like a tree falling in the forest.

A case in point: A large wooden crate arrives in my office at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. It looks

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