The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society, painting class in 1899. In the front row from left Väinö Hämäläinen, Thyra Malmström, Maria Boehm, and Agnes Leidenius. In the middle from left: Hanna Hirn, Ester Hougberg, Lydia Bäckström, and Karin Nordensvahn. In the back row from left: Edit Petander, Bruno Hahl, teacher Albert Gebhard (1869–1937), nude model and Sigrid Lehrbäck. Photographer Jakob Ljungqvist, Helsinki 1899. The Väinö Hämäläinen Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Restructuring Art-historical Canons

Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

 

26 March 2019

 

All art historians most probably know Linda Nochlin’s ground breaking article with its challenging title ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ (ARTnews, January 1971). The feminist approach and growing interest in women artists who were left out of the canon of art history is echoed also in the Finnish art history scene and research on Finnish artist women has been published, especially from the 1980s onwards.

Reorganising art-historical canons seems not to be a quick and easy process but rather one that involves generations of researchers, curators and other actors of the art world. Let us take as an example the Swedish painter who has her first solo show in the United States at the Guggenheim, New York, up to the 23 April. Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) is among the artists who were presented in the exhibition ‘The Spiritual in Art’ and its comprehensive catalogue in 1986 and thus her name has been known at least by those art historians who have been interested in spiritual ideas connected with art. Now the time seems to be right for establishing her rightful status in the history of pioneering abstract artists. In this issue Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff is writing in the context of a current exhibition at the Ateneum, about František Kupka who, on the other hand, is among the recognized abstract painters from the early 1900s.

Interestingly, the Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) was born the same year as Hilma af Klint. Schjerfbeck’s art is exceptionally well represented in the Finnish National Gallery’s collections and has so far been shown, for example, in Paris, Hamburg and in several venues in Japan. An exhibition arranged by the Royal Academy of Arts in London and co-curated by the RA and the FNG, is opening in July. Current trends of looking at modernity in art from angles other than solely the aspiration towards abstract expression, are apt to pave the way for deepening recognition of artists like Schjerfbeck in the context of European modern art. In an interview published in this issue of FNG Research Marja Sakari, who has recently taken up her new role as director of the oldest of our three museums, the Ateneum, discusses research prospects, such as those concerning women artists.

Art-historical canons have traditionally been based on the idea of individual artists implementing exceptional or even heroic human creativity in the anthropocentric modern world. In this issue of FNG Research Satu Oksanen, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, discusses the work of Alma Heikkilä, a contemporary artist woman whose solo exhibition is shown in the museum. Heikkilä challenges both the anthropocentric world view and the traditional idea of unique and individual authorship in art. Her art practice is linked with environmental issues and human impacts on ecosystems. As Oksanen writes: ‘During this epoch of ecological threat, taking action means searching for new ways of existing, speculating, and recognising the agency of the non-human. (…) Heikkilä strives to broaden the scope of authorship beyond the individual, dismantling structural hierarchies and making space for more-than-human agencies. In doing so, she challenges not only anthropocentrism, but also museum conventions.’

Featured image: The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society, painting class in 1899. In the front row from left Väinö Hämäläinen, Thyra Malmström, Maria Boehm, and Agnes Leidenius. In the middle from left: Hanna Hirn, Ester Hougberg, Lydia Bäckström, and Karin Nordensvahn. In the back row from left: Edit Petander, Bruno Hahl, teacher Albert Gebhard (1869–1937), nude model and Sigrid Lehrbäck. Photographer Jakob Ljungqvist, Helsinki 1899. The Väinö Hämäläinen Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery