Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum building, gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photo: Finnish National Gallery.

Editorial: Go Go Collection Research!

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum


September 25, 2015


My lifelong passion has been collection studies and museum history. I began exploring this topic in the late-1980s when it was not very high on the agenda. Later on, collections and museum history have earned their place within the academic discourse – and for a good reason.

Collections form the absolute core of the Finnish National Gallery and it goes without saying that the collection is our shared passion today. It consists of more than 36,000 works of art and a priceless archive of letters, documents, photographs and other material that completes the story of art. This rich collection is a wonderful combination of artworks and documents relating to the creative process – correspondence revealing thoughts and ideas, photos from decades that have been long gone and much more.

Our exhibition projects, whether they are in-house productions, joint ventures or tailor-made productions, are all based on extensive research – from studies related to a single work, to complete analysis of a whole artistic oeuvre or phenomenon within visual arts. The well-spent hours in the library reading books and looking at the archive material, seeking new data, making links and discovering things, can be described as a seductive and very addictive part of our work – not to mention the close study of the artworks.

The history of collection and its sub-collections are of interest as well. Take Siv and Rolando Pieraccini’s substantial donation, for example: the largest collection of 20th-century Italian graphic art outside Italy, it consists of more than 1,300 works by 50 artists and opens a huge possibility for new initiatives that may lead to a number of exhibitions.

Our aim at the Finnish National Gallery is to strengthen and develop the co-operation between museums and universities, as well as with individual scholars. We are organising international research conferences around the themes that are of importance for us. And we are looking forward to welcoming new researchers to dive into our collections and archives – and get to know our in-house experts who cover the huge range of art history, from the Renaissance to contemporary art and culture.

The international community is all about networks and contacts. Therefore, we strongly believe in sharing what we have with others.

I wish that you enjoy reading FNG Research.

Featured image: The Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photographer unknown. Photo: Finnish National Gallery


The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery.

Peer Reviewed Article: The Art Museum as Author of Art History – The Formation of a National Art Collection in Finland and the Case of Copies

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in ‘Mind and Matter. Selected Papers of Nordik 2009 Conference for Art Historians’. Edited by Johanna Vakkari. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia / Studies in Art History 41. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura – Society of Art History, 216–227.

People have always been keen to hear, tell and build complete stories. The reasons have to do with the encyclopaedic need to understand the world and its mechanisms and to govern the universe by relevant explanations. The more one knows the more power one has, as demonstrated in the early cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance period.[1] The driving force behind every collection is a dream of completeness, and creating something that remains even after the collector’s death.[2] Collecting is also a statement of what’s considered valuable and worth seeing. In this sense a collector is a creator, a storyteller.

Public museums are not that different. They are committed to the formation of art history by collecting, displaying and interpreting works of art at an institutional level. Museums have become the official narrators of art history – but not without the individual decision-makers and gatekeepers who have used the institutional power. The formation of collections has depended on their personal value judgement, understanding and taste.

It’s also vital to understand the role of the museums as non-neutral, political tools. They have been used to build and to illustrate a nation, as authors such as Benedict Anderson[3] have suggested. Museums create an institutional aura for the master narratives, and help nations to visualise the past and the present by displaying collections according to the greater consensus.[4] This is particularly interesting in the case of 19th-century representations since that was typically an era of ‘one’ story, art history forming a good example of this.

This article looks into one of the early Finnish cases, the formation of the art collection of the Finnish Art Society[5], and describes the high expectations and controversies that emerged in late 19th-century Finland when the collection was permanently displayed at the Ateneum building, opened to the public in the autumn of 1888 in Helsinki city centre.

[1] See Mauries, Patrick, Cabinets of Curiosities. Thames and Hudson, 2002.

[2] About the psychology of collecting see Muensterberger, Werner, Collecting: An Unruly Passion. Psychological Perspectives. San Diego, New York, London: A Harvest Book, 1994.

[3] Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

[4] This can be demonstrated by looking into the history of displays where different trends apply: the 19th-century collection display emphasised the traditional story of art told with the help of different Schools and this remained the dominating way to address the issue until the last decades of 20th century when museums started to present multiple stories at the same time, mixing and blending the major narrative with minor narratives, representing the local and global together and travelling in time, thus demonstrating the links from the contemporary to the past. For influential examples see the documentation of the 1998 collection display at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the 2000 collection display at Tate Modern, London.

[5] For an extensive study of the formation of the collection of the Finnish Art Society see Pettersson, Susanna, Suomen Taideyhdistyksestä Ateneumiin. Fredrik Cygnaeus, Carl Gustaf Estlander ja taidekokoelman roolit. Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura: Helsinki, 2008.

Featured image: The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery

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Anna Rapinoja, Autumn Party Shoes, 2010, made from northern bilberry leaves, from the series ‘Wardrobe of Nature’, 2005–11, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Physical Phenomena and Natural Materials – The Challenges in Collection Management

Eija Aarnio, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

First published in Kiasma Hits. Kiasma Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Publication 139/2013. Edited by Arja Miller & Joni Kling. Helsinki 2013: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 60–71. Transl. Tomi Snellman

Art research has not always placed a particularly high value on materiality. Matter was seen primarily as a substratum through which meanings were read. However, the separation of matter and idea is no longer considered a realistic approach in the understanding of the processes of art. Art historian Katve-Kaisa Kontturi even claims that no image or representation can be interpreted or would even exist without the material-bodily processes of art making and reception.[1]

Anni Rapinoja’s Wardrobe of Nature (2005–11) consists of hats and handbags made of cotton grass and common reed, complete with sumptuous fur coats and matching shoes made of willow or northern bilberry leaves. Peering into the handbag, you find it is filled with elk droppings. Rapinoja lives on the island of Hailuoto in Oulu, where she collects these sensitive materials for her work. The inhabitants of the island know her and her working methods. Hunters are in the habit of bringing her the ears and tails of rabbits they have caught, which the artist keeps in cake boxes while she waits for inspiration.

Timo Heino’s Dialogue (2005) is made of synthetic and organic elements – car tyres, metal chains and human hair. With hair cascading towards the floor from their centres, the rubber tyres are like a row of chandeliers hanging at different heights. Processing has transformed real hair into an almost unnatural substance. The threadbare tyres are recycled material. The artist wants to blur the aesthetic of materials and the narrow categorisations and rigid oppositions typical of Western culture.

[1] In her study, Katve-Kaisa Kontturi emphasises a neo-materialist approach in which a bodily experience of art can also be part of critical research. Katve-Kaisa Kontturi, Following the flows of process: a new materialist account of contemporary art, University of Turku, Turku, 2012, 22–24.

Featured image: Anna Rapinoja, Autumn Party Shoes, 2010, made from northern bilberry leaves, from the series ‘Wardrobe of Nature’, 2005–11, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen.

From Monitor to Gallery Space – Spatialisation of the Moving Image in Finnish Video Art in the 1990s

Kati Kivinen, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

One of the main trends in both the video art and photography of the 1990s is related to spatial works of art rapidly becoming more common in both domestic and international contemporary art. In video art, the projected and multi-screen video installation quickly replaced earlier sculptural video installation art, which still depended on monitors as the image source. In the video art of the 1990s, the partner in dialogue was more often cinema rather than television, and the emphasis shifted from the political video art of the 1970s, which had used TV aesthetics, to more experiential video art that returned to cinema aesthetics (Iles 2003; Kotz 2005/2008). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, photography turned to installation’s new ways of presenting and interpreting in an effort to break away from the documentary tradition, and to pursue the fine art dimension of photography in particular (Rinne 1997, 11; Elovirta 1999, 199–201).

The new spatial trends in the field of art soon also inspired various attempts to compartmentalize and define the new spatial forms of expression in both moving image and photography. At the turn of the millennium, terms such as gallery film, used in Anglo-American discourse, and cinéma d’exposition (cinema of exhibition), based on French research, established their presence in the discourse on spatial forms of the moving image, while in photography, the discussion was situated somewhere between the points of fine art photography and fine arts. In Finland, these fields had only just started to move towards one another at the beginning of the 1990s. The outbreak of photography into space mainly took place through conceptual art, when the photograph – no longer merely a pure aesthetic object, but now a part of a process – broke out of its frame, expanding the traditional boundaries of the medium and seeking to find new ways and forms for the expression traditionally imposed on it (Hietaharju 1992). Later, photography also showed signs of moving towards cinematic representation in the works of significant photographers of the 1990s such as Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky. One of that decade’s central phenomena in photography became the monumental ‘cinematic tableaux’, which, in art-historian Liz Kotz’s opinion, brought together the high culture aspirations of painting and the pop culture appeal of Hollywood (Kotz 2005, 105).

This development started around the same time in both art forms; however, in photography, it withered quickly. In Finnish art large-scale projected video installations – often in multi-screen format – had great exposure at the turn of the millennium in both domestic and international exhibitions, and were often accompanied by Finnish photography. The significant difference was, however, that coming into the new millennium, photography abandoned installations and ‘returned to the walls’. Director of the Finnish Museum of Photography Elina Heikka sees signs of ‘business economic rationality’ in this development, which, in the internationalization of the art world, shuns the more experimental forms of art and favours easily movable pieces that can be placed in different kinds of spaces (Heikka 2004).

Featured image: Heli Rekula, Skein, 2000, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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