Photo by Johanna Austin,
June 4–23, 2024

A Vibrant and Musical Look at the Art of Hilma af Klint

June 24, 2024
Philadelphia RowHome Magazine

-Brenda Hillegas

If you took a bunch of your favorite musicals, threw them into a hat and shook it up, then dumped it out onto the Wilma Theatre stage, you’d have Hilma. Needless to say, I was all in.

This new rock opera concept, produced in partnership with New York theatre company New Georges, highlights the life and art of Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist and mystic whose vibrant paintings are considered to be some of the first abstract works known in Western art history. Though born in 1862, she insisted that her work not be seen by the general public until twenty years after her death (in 1944). The Guggeinheim’s “Hilma Af Klint: Paintings for the Future” exhibition in 2018-2019 had over 600,000 visitors, making it the most-visited exhibition in the museum’s 60-year history.

It was at that exhibit that playwright Kate Scelsa and composer Robert M. Johanson decided to see what a musical inspired by the art of Hilma would look like. It turns out, Hilma, as a stage production, is gorgeous and bright and just wild in a great way. Imagine bits of Suffs, Jesus Christ Superstar, I think I got a hint of Jonathan Larson, and even some Dreamgirls…and Rocky Horror? You’ll see, because if you know me personally, I won’t let you miss this performance.

Act 1 schools us in Hilma af Klint (played by Kristin Sieh) as she meets Anna Cassel at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (J Molière) and together, they create a group called “The Five” consisting of other spiritualists. Over the years, their group grows as Hilma works on 193 pieces of art known collectively as The Paintings for the Temple (pausing for a few years after meeting Theosophist leader Rudolf Steiner). All of this leads up to an incredible Act 2 that’s a full blown concert with lights, costumes, and breaking the fourth wall to tell us more about Hilma’s importance today. You’re fully immersed in Hilma’s art and why it was created.

Hilma also features stunning performances from Sarah Gliko, Brett Ashley Robinson, Evan Spigelman, and Robert M. Johnson (as Steiner). There’s a live band on stage that’s also a big part of the story, and the production team is flooded with talent.

If you can’t make it to the Wilma for a live performance through June 23rd (tickets), you can stream it at home from June 24th to July 21st. And, please, take a look at her art. You can learn more about Hilma on the Hilma af Klint Foundation website.