Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
25 May, 2018
The Finnish art collector and philanthropist Seppo Fränti has decided to donate his entire contemporary art collection, comprising more than 700 works, to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki. The collection represents more than 100 artists, and about half of the artists are already included in Kiasma’s collections with their later works.
The profile of the Fränti collection is unique: it is very personal, brave, and up to date and it has two different focuses – the tradition of expressionistic painting, and works based on hard-edge painting and post-conceptual art. Classical two-dimensional mediums are predominant: most of the collection comprises paintings or paper-based works, including drawings, photographs, and graphic art, along with some sculptures and objects. The Kiasma collection also shares the same key focus on very recent contemporary art by living artists.
Fränti’s name became well known in 2000 when he was taken hostage by Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines on the remote jungle island of Jolo. After 140 days of what he described as ‘living hell’, kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, Fränti was released along with four other westerners. Fränti has explained that drawing helped him through his depressive period following his experiences on Jolo. ‘I was very down. I drew and this helped me very much,’ he said. His life changed after that drastically, and collecting art, as well as drawing, became an important tool in his personal survival kit.
Fränti had already started collecting art at the turn of the 1970s and 80s. After his time being held hostage, it became a more serious pursuit, and he also found his focus – collecting contemporary art by emerging Finnish artists. The collection also includes some more established artists, such as Olli Marttila, Outi Heiskanen, Henry Wuorila-Stenberg, Jukka Korkeila and Heikki Marila. Many of them have been teachers and professors for younger-generation artists such as Janne Räisänen, Olli Piippo, Liisa Lounila, Jyrki Riekki, Robin Lindqvist and Reima Nevalainen. Fränti is often seen as a welcome guest at opening receptions in galleries and art museums and he also visits artists’ studios regularly, as well as art students before they have even participated in their final exhibition ‘Kuvan Kevät’ at the Academy of Fine Arts, (University of Arts, Helsinki).
Seppo Fränti’s collection was shown in 2016 as a selected exhibition entitled ‘Wound’ at Lapinlahti, a cultural centre located in an old psychiatric hospital in Helsinki. Fränti himself curated the show and installed it with the kind help of a group of artists who are represented in the collection. The collection’s artists have become true friends of Fränti. The exhibition venue, the old Medical Director’s residence at the disused Lapinlahti hospital, also resonated with the role of the collection as a meaningful way to handle the core issues of humanity. The works reflect how to overcome situations when an individual is in the most fragile position, and how to live a full life in a time of joys and sorrows. Fränti’s collection is also a perfect example of showing different audiences how the art around you can help to communicate very personal experiences, and also demonstrates the particular role that visual arts have in today’s society.
Now it is our turn to initiate our part of the deal. Earlier this week the first 20 larger-scale paintings were packed and moved from Fränti’s apartment to Kiasma. Over the next two years the collection will undergo collection management and handling. Conservators will make their comments and reports on the condition of each work, and following that they will be photographed, catalogued and stored by the Finnish National Gallery’s professional collection team. The collection will be exhibited in the summer of 2020 as a large collection display with a salon-style hang. Along with the exhibition a research-based publication, including photographs from Seppo Fränti’s home, will be published. Like the collector said at a recent press conference, his children now have a new family and a new home at Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery.
New interns with a special research interest in this collection, are most welcome to apply to the next round of internships at the Finnish National Gallery in the autumn of 2018.
Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, photographed when the first tranche of his donated art collection was transported to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in May 2018. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen