Family of Hilma af Klint condemns NFT drop of her paintings

The family of Swedish abstract artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) have criticized a digital drop of NFTs based on the artist’s series Paintings for the Temple (1906-1915). The NFTs were produced by Stolpe Publishing, Acute Art and Pharrell Williams’ company GODA (Gallery of Digital Assets), not by the Hilma af Klint Foundation who owns the original paintings.

Hilma af Klint was an artist and mystic who created abstract art as a way to reproduce spiritual ideas. She has been considered as “abstractionist before the official advent of abstraction”. Not recognised during her lifetime for her groundbreaking works, af Klint is now accepted to be a hugely important name in the history of art. In 1972, the Hilma af Klint Foundation was established with the purpose of preserving and managing the legacy of the artist. The foundation is in possession of the 193 works in the Paintings for the Temple cycle.

Stolpe Publishing, one of the collaborators on the NFT drop, published a catalogue raisonné on af Klint earlier this year. Stolpe is the publishing side to the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation and three people who work for this company are also on the board of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Simon Hohn from Stolpe Publishing said that the NFT series aimed to “secure the paintings digitally for the future regarding colour representation, size and with their proper titles.” He added that there are “a lot of poor depictions” of af Klint’s art, and “we want to amend that.”  Daniel Birnbaum, also on the board of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, and artistic director at Acute Art, told Hyperallergic that the proceeds from the NFT sale “will be used to support the Hilma af Klint Foundation,” and a complete set of NFTs will be donated to the foundation. GODA’s website further explains that “the NFT series Hilma af Klint – Paintings for the Temple are from the official catalogue raisonne produced by Stolpe Publishing with the endorsement of the Hilma af Klint Foundation”.

Despite this, it seems that not all are in favour of the NFT drop. Whilst Birnbaum says that the NFTs will mean “the Temple will be owned by people all over the world”, descendants of af Klint have emphasised how this goes against the artist’s wishes. Af Klint wrote in her notebooks that the works must be kept from public view for two decades after her death. Hedvig Ersman, the granddaughter of af Klint’s nephew, said that, “even if you don’t believe in spirits, everyone carries spiritual beliefs and aspirations for something higher in life. Hilma af Klint’s paintings speak to us about that … That they’re being monetized, and itemized, and sold as NFTs — this completely goes against the will of Hilma af Klint”. Ersman and her uncle Johan af Klint, the former chair of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, have openly criticised the drop, stating that “they’re not meant for a person to have hanging on their wall in the living room. Now, with the NFT, they’re commercializing it, using Hilma af Klint’s name and reputation to subvert her message.”

Another possible problem with the NFTs is the issue of copyright. Jessica Höglund, CEO of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, stated that the foundation had a “non-commercial agreement with Bokförlaget Stolpe for printed and digital versions of Catalogue Raisonné (including books, VRs, ARs, NFTs etc.)” She also said that, “the Foundation is not in [a] position to either permit or oppose third party reproductions of Hilma af Klint’s work (irrespective of whether such reproductions are posters or NFTs).” Copyright on af Klint’s works expired in 2014, however her descendants have said that moral rights of the works can still be effectuated, given that af Klint did not want her paintings to be commercialized.

Despite the controversy, the plans for the sale of the NFTs has gone ahead: GODA has created an in-person installation of the NFTs at their gallery and Acute Art have created a virtual reality temple to house the works. 

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