Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1946, oil on cardboard, 77cm x 68cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Rooted in New Research

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The new Director of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, Marja Sakari, discusses the importance of research in taking the museum forward both as an international player and at home

When Marja Sakari heard she had been selected to be Director of the Ateneum Art Museum, last Autumn, her response was unequivocal: ‘It’s great to be appointed as the Museum Director of Finland’s most well-known museum. I will follow the road paved by my predecessors, with a firm confidence in the experts at the Ateneum.’ The Ateneum is one of the three museums that together constitute the Finnish National Gallery, which is responsible for expanding and maintaining the largest art museum collection in Finland, owned by the state of Finland. The other two are the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

In an age where globalisation is speeding up the trajectories of change exponentially, it is heartening to hear a major player in the international art museum field place her trust in the considerable benefits that have already been built up through dedicated practice and patiently won skills developed at the museum now entrusted to her care. In her opening post for her blog on the Ateneum website, she wrote: ‘I recently came across a quote by Hundertwasser when I was visiting the Kunst Haus Wien Museum: “If we do not respect our past, we will lose our future; if we destroy our roots, we cannot grow.” This idea also supports my own perception of the importance of the Ateneum’s art.’

Sakari’s own long career has seen her develop and deepen her skills, planting seeds both at home and internationally. These include major roles across both academia and the museum world, ranging from lecturer and acting Professor of Art History at the University of Helsinki, to becoming Director of the Finnish Institute in Paris, and Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, where she presided over innovative projects that placed the museum at the forefront of presenting and collecting online and digital art. Now she has returned to the Ateneum  building, where she started out in the 1990s working in the Central Art Archives as a researcher with a project on ephemeral art. This research formed the basis for her PhD thesis on conceptual art in Finland from the 1970s until the postmodern 1990s, with reference to international conceptual art.

Featured image: Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1946, oil on cardboard, 77cm x 68cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Read more — Download the interview as a PDF

Download the Full Interview as a PDF >>