Mario Merz, Untitled (Igloo), 1989, wax, rock, neon, glass, metal, diameter 823cm The Kouri Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Peer Reviewed Article: Art Collections Born through Division ─ Kouri Collection Case Study

Kari Tuovinen, MSc [Econ], independent scholar

Many important art collections have arrived at their current state through division processes. The critic Clement Greenberg, for example, regularly made donations from his private art collection as well as selling off parts of it;[1] after his death the collection was sold to Portland Art Museum but his family kept a number of works.[2] The famous Russian collections of early French Modernism in the Hermitage and the Pushkin museums are the result of splitting up industrialist Sergei Shchukin’s private collection.[3] Such divisions are common in the corporate world. For example, when the ING Bank in the Netherlands was split into insurance and banking operations, its corporate art collection was divided between the two.[4]

The Kouri Collection at the Finnish National Gallery / the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki is also a prominent collection that has gone through a division process. Pentti Kouri (1949─2009) was an investment banker and Professor of Economics at the Universities of Stanford, Yale, and Helsinki. While living in New York in the late 1980s he built up a private collection of about 250 works by artists such as Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel, and also many less well-known artists.[5] Through a complicated process, 61 works from his collection were transferred to the ownership of the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.

There is much research literature on art collecting, but very little research into the processes of dividing up art collections and their outcome. In order to help bridge this gap, this article examines two questions. First, what were the phases and characteristics of dividing up Kouri’s collection, and how were the works selected? Secondly, what was the outcome of the division process, in other words, what are the differences between the original private collection and the current Kouri Collection now in the Finnish National Gallery / the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma?

[1] Wilkin, Karen, 2001. ‘Clement Greenberg: a critical eye’, in Karen Wilkin and Bruce Guenther (eds.), Clement Greenberg, A Critic’s Collection. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 25–26.

[2] After the widow’s death 12 works were auctioned, https://www.christies.com/features/The-Collection-of-Jenny-and-Clement-Greenberg-7319-1.aspx accessed 4 June 2018.

[3] http://www.artnews.com/2017/02/21/an-embarrassment-of-riches-the-shchukin-collection-at-fondation-louis-vuitton-in-paris-overflows-with-modernist-masterpieces-and-offers-dark-parallels-to-our-plutocratic-present/ accessed 1 June 2018.

[4] https://www.ing.com/ING-in-society/Art/ING-Collection.htm accessed 4 June 2018.

[5] Kouri admits that he made ‘very many mistakes’ before finding his ‘line to follow’. Interview with Kouri in Rossi, Leena-Maija, ’Taide on ainoa alue, jossa henkiset arvot ovat vielä jäljellä.’ Helsingin Sanomat, 25 May 1992.

Featured image: Mario Merz, Untitled (Igloo), 1989, wax, rock, neon, glass, metal, diameter 823cm
The Kouri Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen. © Kuvasto 2018

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