Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

25 March 2020

 

As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen