Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
6 July 2022
A work of art always needs a material support and structure to be presented to an audience. And art is always exhibited in specific circumstances that are framed by the cultural and political discussions of the day. In our summer edition of FNG Research, we have selected four different articles, which at first glance are not easy to categorise according to specific thematic guidelines. Still, taking them all together, the questions of materiality, objecthood and the art beholder’s presence in the shared space with the work of art, seem to be relevant even if the artworks derive from different time periods.
Materiality and the sense of touch are very topical interests for living artists, along with the intensification of societal topics. The Chief Curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma João Laia opens the key narratives in the ARS22 exhibition entitled ‘Living Encounters’. Our aim in the show was to include a multitude of different media to highlight the variety of contemporary practices, which artists are using today. At the same time, we also wanted to bring together a range of local and global geographies and in so doing making various material cultures visible. Then alongside the artefacts there is temporary live art as well as performances to create a specific atmosphere for the show. Laia reminds us in his article that ‘(b)y countering mediated forms of isolated digital connectivity with actual bodily and dialogical exchanges, these expanded live practices create spaces of communal experimentation, places of imaginative possibility where social formations can emerge in shared manners’.
Among the many works, the exhibition includes Marina Abramović and Ulay’s seminal performative experiments exploring the embeddedness of the spiritual in the bodily, which were originally presented in 1983 at the Ateneum Art Museum as a part of the ‘ARS83’ exhibition. A few black-and-white documentation photographs in our archives witness the event, and one of those is presented in the current version of the ARS22 exhibition, creating a historical link to live art practices in the show. It is fascinating to recognise that a world famous artist, like Abramović, has a history from her early days in Helsinki.
The Ateneum in its early days also ran an art school next to the museum collection in the same premises. And so the presence of naked bodies, in the anatomy classes and croquis drawing sessions, had a history in the very same gallery spaces as today’s museum. Now this early history of bodies has been researched by Laura Nissinen via the 19th-century anatomy drawings in the Finnish National Gallery’s Collections. In her article, which is the result of her internship at the Finnish National Gallery Nissinen follows different layers of bodily presentations, representations and enactments in art teaching via copies of master sculptures produced in plaster, archive materials such as photographs and drawing manuals, collections of drawings and sketches. ‘Common to the philosophical and artistic bodies is that they are both representations that reflect the thinking, skill, and aesthetic sensibility of their creator. […] The bodily representations are mirrors of humanity, expressing the values of different cultures and eras.’
The body of a painting can be studied in different ways. In this issue, Hanne Tikkala’s peer-reviewed article analyses the colour palettes and colour schemes used by two internationally renowned Finnish artists, Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Tikkala identifies and compares the contents of their pigment palettes using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and polarised light microscopy. Shades of pigments like iron-based oranges and reds, chromium or Indian yellows and Prussian blues will appear differently via those devices and methods. Schjerfbeck and Gallen-Kallela were working at a time when new artificial pigments and colours started to replace some of the classical earth pigments. Gallen-Kallela’s travels were even possible to follow by studying more closely the pigments used and their availability at the time.
This year’s second FNG research intern Hilla Männikkö has touched in her article on the special characteristics shared by the miniatures in Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoffs’ Art Collection. These portable and intimate paintings were in their day both material and social objects, which could also be appreciated through the sense of touch. As the author highlights: ‘…especially when considering a miniature, it is important to see its tangible nature. They are not consumed solely by the eye. The connection with a miniature and its subject emerges also with touch: the size and shape are usually well fitted into the hand, which can hold it tight, lift it to be kissed or stroke its smooth surface gently.’ In our times, the closest we can get to these minute paintings is by viewing them in a display case or by exploring the digitised images, which also give access to the reverse side of the paintings that might contain personal notes, or even memorabilia.
Along with an artwork’s material existence is always the presentation of it, the framing and displaying, which are linked to the episteme of the time – the context, discourses and cultural climate, which create the surroundings for works of art. These aspects are consciously highlighted in gallery texts, academic papers and in a way how different artists and objects are curated together.
This issue’s curatorial discussion between Gill Crabbe and curator Claudia de Brün focuses on the ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’ exhibition, which touches on the flora and garden of art treasures at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. It’s time to enjoy the natural beauty around us and if you wish to intensify your floral experiences and deepen the understanding of the subject matter, you are welcome to admire the flower paintings inside the museum surrounded by its garden of delights.
Featured image: The reverse of Domenico Bossi’s portrait miniature Mayor Nelander, 5.5cm x 5.5cm. Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo