Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
Reimagining iconic artworks from the past has been a continuous thread in creating the story of art. Director General of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Susanna Pettersson, discusses with Gill Crabbe the vision for the exhibition on iconic artworks she has curated, which travels from Stockholm to Helsinki this summer, and how this wide-ranging thematic show was put together
What turns an artwork into an iconic artwork? Who defines a work as iconic, and how does such status evolve, endure or dissolve over time? These are questions that have distilled in the mind of Susanna Pettersson since she started out as a doctoral student in the 1990s studying the history of museums and their collections; questions that matured over the decades as her career path took her from curator to Director General of the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, and now Director-general of Sweden’s Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, to bear fruit in the exhibition ‘Inspiration – Contemporary Art & Classics’.
Nowadays it is acknowledged that these are questions that can only be partly answered, through offering perspectives made conscious in a given place and time. But when the era of establishing museums began in Europe in the 19th century the (his)story of art was instilled with definite parameters, parameters that determined the art-historical canon and persisted in such a way that it is only relatively recently that they are being challenged, reinterpreted, and augmented.
‘It really started all those years ago in London when I sat in National Art Library of the V&A, reading old publications describing what was appreciated in early 19th-century art, with their clear detailed recommendations as what to keep in mind when travelling in Dresden, Berlin, Munich etc. So this research laid the ground for the conception of this exhibition,’ says Pettersson.
In putting together an exhibition on such a vast theme, the task facing the curators of presenting material that can be approached on many levels by a diverse audience, from the interested ‘general public’ to the artistic and academic community, was a complex one. ‘Inspiration – Contemporary Art & Classics’ achieves this in a number of ways: through mapping the key museums emerging in Europe in the 19th century, analysing their collections and the criteria for acquisitions, and tracing their influences on other museums, such as the Ateneum Art Museum itself; through pairing iconic art-historical works with contemporary artists’ reinterpretations of their themes; and through commissioning new works by contemporary artists to underline key ideas in the exhibition. An accompanying catalogue broadens out the contextual research, with essays by a range of international experts, and focus interviews spotlight specific contemporary artists in the show.
Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Angel (detail copy after Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Annunciation), 1895, oil on canvas, 100cm x 100cm. State Copy Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
Read more — Download ‘Making Art’s Milestones’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF