Installation view of the ‘Tom of Finland – Bold Journey’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2023 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Editorial: Recognitions and Re-recognitions. The Homecoming of Finland’s Most Famous Artist

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


22 August, 2023


Tom of Finland is renowned for his signature style and iconic drawings of modern, liberated gay men. In April 2023, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery opened its exhibition ‘Bold Journey’, along with an accompanying publication, highlighting the artist’s long artistic career and impact on 20th-century visual culture, particularly on iconic representations of hypermasculinity. Driven by pleasure – that of the artist, the figures in the drawings, and the audience – Tom of Finland’s imagination is embedded in shifting identities and role-play.

Nowadays, Tom of Finland, aka Touko Laaksonen (1920–91), justifiably carries the epithet of ‘Finland’s most internationally famous artist’. However, from the 1950s to the 1970s, he was known in Helsinki only as Touko Laaksonen, a talented graphic artist, working as an advertising executive at McCann Erickson, and a musician who had studied at the Sibelius Academy. It was only late in his life, while shuttling between Helsinki and Los Angeles, that he began appearing in public as the famed gay icon Tom of Finland and not until the early 1990s onwards that he started to gain recognition, both in Finland and elsewhere, explicitly as an artist rather than just a homoerotic illustrator. California’s balmy weather, the abundance of male models, and the Tom House leatherman community offered Tom a welcoming winter sanctuary, while in summer he returned to work in the peace, privacy and natural beauty of his homeland.

It was not until the very end of his career that Tom finally gained artistic recognition in his homeland. His memorial retrospective was held at Galerie Pelin in Helsinki in 1992. At the time, the Museum of Contemporary Art acquired two drawings from that show, which paved the way to Tom’s public acceptance, as did Ilppo Pohjola’s documentary film Daddy and the Muscle Academy the previous year. Little by little, Tom progressed from ‘gay artist’ to ‘artist’ until finally wider audiences were ready to call him their own.

Until the 1990s, the Finnish public had seen Tom’s drawings mostly only in comics exhibitions within the arts scene. In 1990, he received the Puupäähattu Award for Finnish Comics Artists, and later that year his drawings were featured in a comics exhibition organised by the Artists’ Association MUU. In its special ‘sex’ issue, the Finnish magazine Image (3/1990) published an extensive illustrated article, quoting an interview published earlier that year in Prätkäposti (Biker Mail). From October to December 1991, original illustrations from the Kake and Mike comic strips series were presented in Ruutujen aika. Suomen Sarjakuvaseuran kaksi vuosikymmentä (Frames: Two Decades of the Finnish Comics Society) at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki. Also that year, two of Tom’s drawings appeared as examples of Finnish underground comics in Koko hajanainen kuva. Suomalaisen taiteen 80-luku (The Whole Fragmentary Picture: Finnish Art in the Eighties), a 1991 book by Marja-Terttu Kivirinta and Leena-Maija Rossi, designed by Ilppo Pohjola.

Major public recognition followed in 1992, after the Finnish publishing house Otava published the extensive biography, written by F. Valentine Hooven III, Tom of Finland – Elämäkerta (Biography, translated into Finnish by Eeva-Liisa Jaakkola).[1] In 2017, it was republished by another Finnish publishing house, Like, with a new foreword and subtitled Marginaalista maailmanmaineeseen (‘From the Margins to World Fame’).[2] In the original biography, Tom is referred to only by his pseudonym, never by his real name. In a letter to his friend, written from Laakso hospital in 1991, Tom aired his thoughts on the flurry of fame that came to him in the twilight of his career:

That same scribbler Valentine Hooven was here for the second time around midsummer. He is writing my biography, which will be published in Finnish by OTAVA in the New Year. A video about me will be released around the same time. They also want to organise a ‘real art exhibition’ of my drawings in Helsinki – suddenly everyone is going wild about me. How times have changed! Or have they?
 – Tom of Finland’s letter to his friend in Helsinki, 9 July 1991

Archival findings and cultivating our national artist’s legacy

One key resource for the Kiasma exhibition was an archive that was donated in 2001, with additional material added in 2005, to the Finnish National Gallery’s Archival Collections by one of Touko Laaksonen’s long-time friends, who wished to remain anonymous. The archive contains letters, cards, newspaper clippings, photos, videos, magazines, books and calendars. A curator of the Archival Collections, Veikko Pakkanen, reminded me in person about this specific archive before retiring. To our delight, the current exhibition’s curatorial team – myself, chief curator João Laia and project manager Patrik Nyberg – came across four original works of art among this large volume of material. The drawings are now in the process of being added to the art collection, so that there will be 13 Tom of Finland drawings held by the Finnish National Gallery. We are also still confirming the authenticity of two more photographic collages from this archive, to be authorised by the Tom of Finland Foundation.

This important change in the status of archival material is part of the recognition of Tom of Finland’s originals as one entity within the art collection. Already in the winter of 2022, five of the artist’s drawings, which for several years had been on long-term loan from the HIV Foundation Finland, were purchased and added to the National Gallery’s collections at Kiasma. It is of key importance that finally Tom of Finland’s artworks are recognised and respected and not seen as comics or categorised as archival documents; that they belong to the core contemporary art collection at the Finnish National Gallery, and that he is our national artist. In this way these works become more easily accessible to scholars, curators and to the multiple audiences of our online collections and our forthcoming exhibitions. This final change in his artistic legacy was also recognised in the recent Frieze art review about the exhibition and encapsulated in its title ‘Tom of Finland Hitches a Ride into the Mainstream’, by Harry Tafoya.[3]

Scholarly queer re-recognitions

In this issue of FNG Research we republish one of the new articles in Bold Journey, which was published together with Parvs Publishing: ’Boys will be boys? – Some Notes on Tom of Finland’, written by adjunct curator at Tate and Contributing Editor for Frieze Alvin Li. In his article Li emphasises the notion of Tom of Finland’s legacy for new generations. Li was born in 1993, two years after Tom passed away, and tries to recall the moment when he most likely first encountered Tom of Finland’s drawings – which were in the form of digital reproductions on Tumblr. Tom’s imagery can be also criticised on the basis of the images’ ‘(over)performance of homomasculinity’ or their commercial merchandise potential. There has also been increasing recognition of the widening scope of sexualities since the early 1990s. Li summarises both the progress of feminist and queer scholarly work undertaken so far but also the potentiality of the bodily truth of gay desire in Tom of Finland’s drawings. Parallel realities among LGBTIQ+ communities and generations can find different ways and reasons to identify with his imagery or at least to recognise the value of his emancipatory impact and human rights work among minorities over the decades.

Alongside the Tom of Finland exhibition at Kiasma is a new collection display, ‘Dreamy’, guest-curated by Max Hannus, which focusses on queer perspectives on the Kiasma collections at the Finnish National Gallery. In their article ‘Entry to a Land that Is Not’, Hannus gives curatorial insights about the process of getting to know our collections from this point of view. For some years now, we have been keeping three-option statistics on the gender of artists. In their essay, Hannus likes to find a specific time category named as queer time as a key to understanding the thematics of the show and as a point of entry into the collections: “‘Dreamy’ is an exhibition where dreams, fantasies, nightmares, visions, and scenes are seen as signs of queerness existing in the world and of the potential for sharing, finding common ground. How has art documented queer time over time? And how can we, as viewers of art, find entry to something we couldn’t even dream of? Queer time opposes itself to the linear time of order. It is outside chronology, another reality and parallel to straight time.’

During the Covid-19 pandemic Kiasma was celebrating 30 years of collecting contemporary art for the Finnish National Gallery’s Collection and published a collection book entitled The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. For that book I researched Kiasma’s international collection and how it has been formed over the years. In my article, which we republish in this issue of FNG Research, I summarise the geographies, the developments in arts, and also different collections within the overall collection, as well as the link between the exhibition programme and the profile of the international art collection, which go hand in hand. I wrote that still the key question concerns how we understand our own time: ‘A collection of contemporary art lives with the changing world. Our national collection is being built in relation to the international art field around the world, yet from a given location. The planet has shrunk as a consequence of travel and the internet. The primary aim of the collection is not to fill an art-historical canon, but rather, to actively shape it and be prepared to tell stories of our own time.’

[1] The book was published in English in 1993 by St Martin’s Press, New York, with a title Tom of Finland: His Life and Times.

[2] Translated into English from F. Valentine Hooven III’s original text Tom of Finland – Life and Work of a Gay Hero.

[3] See

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Tom of Finland – Bold Journey’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2023
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Elina Brotherus, Nu montant un escalator, 2017, single-channel video, duration 3min 30sec Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery

A Journey along Kiasma’s International Collection

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Saara Hacklin, Kati Kivinen and Satu Oksanen (eds.), The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. The Kiasma Collection Book. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 175/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2022, p. 51–59. Transl. Anna Rawlings

Contemporary art cannot be considered without international exchange. For its part, such interaction renews both the content of art itself and the activity of the art field. The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma has, since its founding, focused on collecting both Finnish and international contemporary art. Art purchases reflect topical issues, they speak of the museum’s activity and values in a changing art world. The collection profile of Kiasma, as part of the collections of the Finnish National Gallery, is linked with recognition of contemporaneity. What comprises contemporaneity in today’s world? How do we recognise the factors, artists, and artworks that renew art and society? I will expand on these issues in the second part of my article, through some chosen artwork ensembles.

Summarising the history of the collection

In Kiasma, the collection is expanded in relation to the museum’s exhibition activity and programme: international solo exhibitions, the ARS exhibitions showcasing the international trends of contemporary art, as well as different thematic ensembles, of which collection exhibitions are a central part. Collection purchases reveal the international role of the museum. Pieces purchased from the museum’s own exhibitions have a research history, and they have become familiar to our audiences. Such pieces beloved by the audience include, for example, Christian Skeel and Morten Skriver’s scent vases, Babylon (1996), Jacob Dahlgren’s colourful ribbon piece The Wonderful World of Abstraction (2009), Ken Feingold’s interactive sculpture Head (1999–2000), whispering its strange secrets, as well as Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstone (1978–83).

The collection’s geographical area was sketched in widening circles: from Finland to the Nordic Countries, the Baltic States, Russia, as well as Europe and the United States. Later, the independence of the Baltic States, the strengthening of the contemporary art field, and the new agents in contemporary art in the area have helped enlarge the view. Today, the museum emphasises the interaction of local and global culture: art is purchased across national and geographical borders. Nevertheless, areas neighbouring Finland have remained as topics of interest. The 100th anniversary of the first independence of the Baltic States in 2018 encouraged us to update our relationship with the art of the Baltic area, and the collection has been complemented with pieces from a number of rising artists from our neighbouring areas.

Different continents have been emphasised at different times through collection purchases from temporary exhibitions: Latin American countries, such as Brazil or Chile, have been represented through the exhibitions of Cildo Meireles, Dias & Riedweg, Ernesto Neto, and Alfredo Jaar. The art of Sub-Saharan Africa was examined in the ARS11 exhibition. Art from Northeast and South-East Asia was purchased from the ‘Wind from the East’ and ‘Drawn in the Clouds’ exhibitions, from Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia, and artists such as Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Chiharu Shiota, and Melati Suryodarmo. These are complemented by installations acquired from the solo exhibitions of the Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, as well as Choi Jeong Hwa from South Korea. The ARS exhibitions have created an opportunity for producing commissioned pieces and making international purchases.

Featured image: Elina Brotherus, Nu montant un escalator, 2017, single-channel video, duration 3min 30sec. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery

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The reverse of Domenico Bossi’s miniature painting Mayor Nelander, 5.5cm x 5.5cm Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo

Editorial: The Art Experiment, Bodily Approaches and Material Support

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
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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Mika Vainio performs at the opening of ‘Cities on the Move 7’, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 1999 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

50 Hz: Mika Vainio the Sound Artist

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Kati Kivinen & Rikke Lundgreen (eds.), Mika Vainio: 50 Hz. Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 172 / 2020. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Transl. Silja Kudel

I don’t think that the actual sound, the change in air pressure, is the only thing we can call music. Music can also be visual and based on other things, physical things.
– Mika Vainio[1]

Musical background, background as a musician

Mika Vainio (b. 1963 Helsinki, Finland – d. 2017 Trouville-sur-Mer, France) was a composer, performer and DJ who achieved world renown in the field of experimental electronic music. Among his many professional accomplishments, he also carved out a notable career as a sound artist. From 1996 onwards he created more than 15 sound installations, most of them commissioned by biennials, museums and galleries in continental Europe. Many of his works were composed in collaboration with other artists, such as the band Pan Sonic’s Ilpo Väisänen and the Berlin-based artist, composer and label owner Carsten Nicolai. Vainio won admiration as the creator of highly distinctive soundscapes combining synthesizer music and carefully curated noise, achieving a recognisable minimalistic sound both in his recordings and live gigs. He left audiences spellbound by playing at frequencies that invoked a powerful, visceral experience. ‘The world is full of electronic music, but Mika Vainio’s signature style is easy to distinguish from all the rest who play with clicks, buzzes, silences, and low frequencies’, said Vainio’s friend, photographer Antti Viitala.[2] The titles he came up with, such as Onko (Is It?), Ilmanvaihto (Air-conditioning unit) and Hän Oli Ääni Joskus (He Was a Sound Sometimes), are laconically declarative, and he had a unique gift for using sound to evoke visual worlds and very specific moods.

[1] Michelle White. ‘Sähkö 20 Years Anniversary Special Interview with Mika Vainio & Tommi Grönlund’,, 2014, (accessed 15 May 2020).

[2] Antti Viitala quoted in Vainio’s obituary by Tuomas Karemo. A Quiet Life, Programme ‘Kulttuuricocktail’, Yle 16 December 2017, (accessed 15 May 2020).

Featured image: Mika Vainio performs at the opening of ‘Cities on the Move 7’, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 1999
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Editorial: ‘When Museums Are Open Again, the Crisis Is Over’

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


27 March 2020


Less than two weeks ago, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gave a memorable press conference in which she highlighted the exceptional situation in the country due to the coronavirus epidemic. Government officials started to draft the implementation of the exceptional law to protect the most vulnerable parts of the population. One consequence is to limit large audience gatherings and to keep cultural institutions, museums and concert halls closed to avoid spreading the virus. In the FNG’s management team we could not expect it to happen that soon. We had already prepared new and safe instructions on museum etiquette for our audiences, and even stopped using devices such as touch screens and headsets to avoid direct contact among our audiences. Still, one of our key tasks is to keep museums’ doors open to serve our audiences. Now that our doors have been closed we are facing a different reality from that of two weeks ago, and asking our staff for ideas, as well as feedback from our visitors on what we should do and how we can best serve our audiences now.

During the past ten days our organisation has finally taken the famous digital leap also on an everyday level, not only as one of the institution’s strategic goals. Last week’s word was cancelling, and this weeks’ word is reorganising. Remote work from home requires all the technical support to keep digitally functioning, which is vital for keeping spirits high, teams together and projects running. Online meetings via Teams and Skype meetings, the intranet’s project work spaces, and WhatsApp groups are already in use alongside more conventional platforms like Intra news and email. Also a surprise, old-fashioned phone calls are back in our toolkit!

In the current edition of FNG Research we cover different subject matters and research interests, national, transnational and global, linked to the future of our collections. One of the key articles, by Gill Crabbe, is dedicated to the European Revivals research project initiated by the Finnish National Gallery in 2009, which aimed to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. Its concluding conference, ‘Art, Life and Place: Looking at European Transnational Exchange in the Long 19th century’ earlier this year at the Ateneum Art Museum, as well as its five previous international conferences, scores of published papers and affiliated exhibitions, have broadened the scope of European revivals substantially. ‘The issue of cultural revivals, whether national, universal or local, is far more wide-reaching, multidimensional and complex than we could possibly have imagined at the beginning of this journey’, state the Director of Collections Management Dr Riitta Ojanperä and Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Dr Anna-Maria von Bondsdorff, who were both initiators of the research project.

Another text, which relates to the revival research project, is the introductory lecture by Anne-Maria Pennonen to her recent doctoral thesis In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, which was examined in February 2020 at Helsinki University. Pennonen’s key analysis in her thesis is to explore the intellectual and mental changes in the historio-social and temporal context taking place in Finnish landscape painting in the second half of the 19th century, and ‘how the general awareness of ideas concerning nature and developments related to the history of nature changed’. Landscape in art is not only linked to landscape painting, but it is also an aesthetic category, and post-nationalistic discourse, which will be revisited in the future.

Today we are witnessing unexpected drastic changes globally in our societies. While writing this I should have been finishing my speech for the opening ceremony of the ‘Mad Love’ exhibition, curated from Seppo Fränti’s large art collection, but now the show awaits post-crisis rescheduling. Fränti’s collection is his life’s work and he donated it to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery two years ago. Obviously, this ‘opening of the decade’ had to be cancelled due to the current situation and limitations on large public gatherings. In this FNG Research edition we publish two articles that deepen our understanding of the 650 works in the donated collection.

In the first article Kiasma Collections Chief Curator Dr Kati Kivinen and Curator Dr Saara Hacklin, who together curated ‘Mad Love’, analyse the significance of the collection and describe the collection handling and management processes that were key elements in the acceptance of this large-scale donation. For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual arts and especially paintings by talented young artists of the period. The statistics of the collection reveal its structure: ‘While the Fränti Collection complements the museum’s collection, it also alters it. The donation comprises works by 90 artists, of whom more than 50 are new to the museum. It also adds weight to the proportion of Finnish paintings from the 2010s in the museum’s collection.’ The Fränti Collection has come under the institution’s protective wing and is promoted to be a part of a public collection and a shared cultural heritage looked after by professionals.

In the second article on the Fränti Collection art historian Dr Juha-Heikki Tihinen brilliantly analyses the emotional contents that are activated through collecting and attempts to understand the psychological dimensions of the collector living in a labyrinth-like open art repository. Tihinen asks: ‘How should one approach a very eclectic collection?’ While museums often seem to seek coherence and comprehensive representations of certain time periods, private collectors are allowed to focus on specific artists or phenomena in art. As Tihinen points out, the Fränti Collection ‘is more of a passionate verbalisation of the opportunities and boundlessness of art’, reflecting the collector’s mental landscape within the field of contemporary art. Tihinen’s art-historical perspective takes in some iconic collectors and museum quality collections, and examines the ideals and behavioural patterns behind collecting, opening up wider understanding of the meaning of collectors for the art world. Tihinen also leaves us with an image of Seppo Fränti as an enthusiastic art lover and as a storyteller through his active and passionate role as a collector among two generations of artists in Finland.

Our task in the museums is to ask ourselves, what kind of narratives we create from this current time of epidemic crisis and its prevailing dystopic mindscape. We should ask ourselves, how do we write relevant histories in a time of crisis, and what are the lessons we should learn? Those forthcoming stories should be multiple, linked to other stories, individual narratives from all around the world, not only given official truths or nationalistic narratives. I would see our artists from local and global communities being very perceptive at this point. And the multidisciplinary results will be seen sooner than we think on different platforms, most likely first on online digital platforms, and later on in museums and galleries, when we are ready to reopen and to meet again face to face.

P.S. The title of this editorial is taken from a column by Anna-Stina Nykänen in 26 March edition of Helsingin Sanomat, entitled ‘Why the closing of the museums made me cry?’ The current epidemic reminds the author of the writings after the Second World War, when the opening of the museums was seen as a real sign of peace.

Featured image: Kiasma suljettu / stängt / closed. March 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Ane Graff, Ingela Ihrman, States of Inflammation, 2019. A Great Seaweed Day, 2018–2019 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: Weather Report – Voicing a Call for Nordic Responsibility

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki


24 May 2019


Last year, when Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery took responsibility for co-ordinating the Nordic Pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennale, we decided to focus on the main global concern of our times. The Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition, Weather Report: Forecasting Future, is themed around the complex and varied relations between the human and non-human in an age when climate change and mass extinction are threatening the future of life on Earth.

From this year on, the Nordic Pavilion’s exhibition will be co-commissioned by a Nordic Committee representing the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery, Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Office for Contemporary Art Norway. Together, these three institutions will select the curator and review the proposed themes and artists, and we will jointly provide institutional support for efforts to raise the profile of Nordic contemporary art.

The multiple components of climate change are anticipated to affect all levels of biodiversity. Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on our natural environment.

It is often difficult for we humans to notice life forms that exist on a scale different from our own. When imagining the future, we face the responsibility of acknowledging multispecies entanglements.

According to a recent report in Finland, 12 per cent of all species are under serious threat of extinction. As Ane Graff, the Nordic Pavilion’s Norwegian artist, reminded me the other day: ‘Our human guts are the interface to our environment: the extinction of bacteria in our guts reflects directly the extinction of other species in nature.’ Biodiversity affects our food, medicine, and environmental well-being.

At its most interesting, contemporary art engages in public discourse through questions, proposals and provocations put forward by individual artists and, to a growing degree, also cross-disciplinary projects. Art enriches our vision of the future by casting light on its many dimensions and opportunities.[i] While voicing a call for responsibility, future-sketching is often a collective process that brings people together. The Nordic Pavilion provides a forum for reflection on the future in various formats: in our curatorial notes, in the selected exhibits, and in a series of scholarly discussions.

Along with Ane Graff, the other artists invited to exhibit in the Nordic Pavilion this year are Ingela Ihrman from Sweden, and nabbteeri, an artist collective from Finland. They all work across a wide range of media, including sculpture, digital media and text. Their practice is interdisciplinary and often produced collaboratively or in dialogue with experts from specific fields.

The work of artist duo Janne Nabb and Maria Teeri is context-specific, engaging in close interaction with the venue and its immediate location, materials, and multispecies neighbours. Their new intervention, Ethnographies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations, consists of three parts: a 3D-animation and plant installation, Gingerbread House, displayed in an enclosure of sandbags; Compost, a compost heap growing herbs and vegetables outside the pavilion in a container made of discarded mooring dolphins partly digested by naval shipworms; and Dead Head, a wire sphere, also outside the pavilion, that contains twigs collected from the immediate environs. Together, they constitute an endeavour to create a self-maintaining, life-producing ecosystem in front of the pavilion.

Ane Graff employs a wide-ranging multidisciplinary approach incorporating perspectives ranging from feminist new materialism to microbiology and chemistry. In her Cabinets of Inflammation, Graff focuses on the environmental toxins in our daily environment and their destructive effect on vital microbes in our bodies. Graff’s works make connections between climate change, Western societies driven by economic growth, the extinction of immune-modulating intestinal microbes and the spread of inflammatory diseases. The three beautiful glass vitrines and objects on display refer to the human body and its current inflammatory state, emitting signals from the past and hinting at possible future scenarios.

Ingela Ihrman comments on the environmental wave of the 1970s, while also drawing from queer theory and ethnobiology. In the exhibition Ihrman highlights colourful species of algae in her multipart installation A Great Seaweed Day, which reflects on the direct, near-bodily connection between humans and other species. Ihrman’s algae installation tells a story of the liquid origins of human bodies and the existing connections between diverse lifeforms. Silent, large-scale seaweed sculptures invite the exhibition visitors to partake in a bodily experience. I believe that a growing interest in the energy stored in seaweed also yields a promise of a viable renewable alternative for our future post-fossil age.

In this edition of FNG Research we republish three newly commissioned catalogue essays from the Weather Report. Forecasting Future exhibition catalogue. In her contribution ‘Being and thinking with(in) the pavilion space’, co-curator of the exhibition Piia Oksanen writes about how ‘the exhibition is a temporary guest that must adapt to the space’ with its three European nettle trees (Celtis australis) growing inside the pavilion. Hanna Johansson, Professor of Contemporary Art Research at the Academy of Fine Arts/University of the Arts Helsinki, writes a critical reappraisal of climate issues from the perspective of air and the atmosphere, within the context of art and philosophy. A new media theorist Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics at the Winchester School of Art/ Southampton University, analyses the challenges of forecasting the future, both throughout history and in this age of climate crisis, in his essay ‘Abstractions – and how to be here and there at the same time’. The catalogue is co-published and distributed by Mousse Magazine and Publishing.

We are also delighted to publish a new article by our recent research intern Eljas Suvanto. In his article ‘Examining the acquisitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 1939–46: a case study of Arvid Sourander’s donations’, Suvanto focuses on the ideas behind the acquisitions of the time of the Second World War. His motivation is to understand the formation of the collection during that time of crisis through correlations and variations between purchases and donations, especially from the perspective of a specific private donor, whose donated collection contains 63 works now in the Ateneum – a museum governed by the newly established Fine Arts Academy of Finland at that time.

[i] Renata Tyszczuk and Joe Smith, Culture and climate change scenarios: the role and potential of the arts and humanities in responding to the ‘1.5 degrees target’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2018, volume 31, 56–64.

Featured image: Installation view of works by the artists at the Nordic Pavilion exhibition, Venice Biennale, 2019
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment photographed when the first tranche of his donated art collection was transported to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in May 2018. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial – Seppo Fränti Donates his Art Collection to Kiasma

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki


25 May, 2018


The Finnish art collector and philanthropist Seppo Fränti has decided to donate his entire contemporary art collection, comprising more than 700 works, to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki. The collection represents more than 100 artists, and about half of the artists are already included in Kiasma’s collections with their later works.

The profile of the Fränti collection is unique: it is very personal, brave, and up to date and it has two different focuses – the tradition of expressionistic painting, and works based on hard-edge painting and post-conceptual art. Classical two-dimensional mediums are predominant: most of the collection comprises paintings or paper-based works, including drawings, photographs, and graphic art, along with some sculptures and objects. The Kiasma collection also shares the same key focus on very recent contemporary art by living artists.

Fränti’s name became well known in 2000 when he was taken hostage by Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines on the remote jungle island of Jolo. After 140 days of what he described as ‘living hell’, kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, Fränti was released along with four other westerners. Fränti has explained that drawing helped him through his depressive period following his experiences on Jolo. ‘I was very down. I drew and this helped me very much,’ he said. His life changed after that drastically, and collecting art, as well as drawing, became an important tool in his personal survival kit.

Fränti had already started collecting art at the turn of the 1970s and 80s. After his time being held hostage, it became a more serious pursuit, and he also found his focus – collecting contemporary art by emerging Finnish artists. The collection also includes some more established artists, such as Olli Marttila, Outi Heiskanen, Henry Wuorila-Stenberg, Jukka Korkeila and Heikki Marila. Many of them have been teachers and professors for younger-generation artists such as Janne Räisänen, Olli Piippo, Liisa Lounila, Jyrki Riekki, Robin Lindqvist and Reima Nevalainen. Fränti is often seen as a welcome guest at opening receptions in galleries and art museums and he also visits artists’ studios regularly, as well as art students before they have even participated in their final exhibition ‘Kuvan Kevät’ at the Academy of Fine Arts, (University of Arts, Helsinki).

Seppo Fränti’s collection was shown in 2016 as a selected exhibition entitled ‘Wound’ at Lapinlahti, a cultural centre located in an old psychiatric hospital in Helsinki. Fränti himself curated the show and installed it with the kind help of a group of artists who are represented in the collection. The collection’s artists have become true friends of Fränti. The exhibition venue, the old Medical Director’s residence at the disused Lapinlahti hospital, also resonated with the role of the collection as a meaningful way to handle the core issues of humanity. The works reflect how to overcome situations when an individual is in the most fragile position, and how to live a full life in a time of joys and sorrows. Fränti’s collection is also a perfect example of showing different audiences how the art around you can help to communicate very personal experiences, and also demonstrates the particular role that visual arts have in today’s society.

Now it is our turn to initiate our part of the deal. Earlier this week the first 20 larger-scale paintings were packed and moved from Fränti’s apartment to Kiasma. Over the next two years the collection will undergo collection management and handling. Conservators will make their comments and reports on the condition of each work, and following that they will be photographed, catalogued and stored by the Finnish National Gallery’s professional collection team. The collection will be exhibited in the summer of 2020 as a large collection display with a salon-style hang. Along with the exhibition a research-based publication, including photographs from Seppo Fränti’s home, will be published. Like the collector said at a recent press conference, his children now have a new family and a new home at Kiasma and the Finnish National Gallery.

New interns with a special research interest in this collection, are most welcome to apply to the next round of internships at the Finnish National Gallery in the autumn of 2018.

Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, photographed when the first tranche of his donated art collection was transported to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in May 2018. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Pilvi Takala, The Trainee, 2008. Installation shot, Kiasma 2009. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: A Trainee to Remember

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


May 26, 2017


It would be a challenge for museums to manage their daily activities without skilful interns from various study programmes linked to museum studies. Each year, several students who are training at master’s level in art history, aesthetics, museology and cultural management and production come to work with us from between one and three months. They work together with museum professionals on an exhibition or research project, they help to catalogue works of art and documents for databases, update artists’ files, edit exhibition texts, just to mention some of the key tasks.

I still remember one particular trainee from 10 years ago. Kiasma’s partner at that time, Deloitte, came up with a proposal to have an artist in residence in their office building in Ruoholahti, Helsinki. The aim of the project was to re-examine the development of co-operation between the company and the museum together with an artist. The idea was to develop a new kind of project model in which three different agents could meet and learn something together. The young artist Pilvi Takala had just completed her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, and I thought she was the right person to start with a discussion about this highly unconventional trainee programme.

Her art works open up the codes of behaviour operating in different social situations, so she needed a cover story to stay in the office building without revealing her background as an artist or her research topic, namely the company as a work place and its social habits among the personnel seen from the perspective of a trainee. For Takala the internship was a one-month intervention, in which an initially normal-seeming marketing trainee started to apply peculiar working methods during the last week of the internship. For example, she stayed for a whole day in the elevator in order, she said, ‘to do the thinking work’. On another day she just calmly sat by her desk and stared ahead at law division’s office. She had hidden several cameras early in the morning in the office to document people’s reactions.

The unwritten rules, habits and practices of a work place became perceptible and re-examined during the process, feeding into her multi-channel video installation entitled The Trainee (2008), which has received worldwide recognition. Pilvi Takala will return to Kiasma in spring 2018 with a solo exhibition. She has started to prepare another exceptional project, but that is another story.

The editorial board of FNG Research has selected its first three research interns from Helsinki and Jyväskylä Universities based on an open call for applications earlier this spring. We were happy to find out that the interns had done their homework, and priority was given to students whose applications were based on a concrete and defined part of the FNG collections and especially to previously unstudied and topical materials. We’ll return to their essays on selected research matters later this year. We are happy to welcome our new interns with innovative insights!

Featured image: Pilvi Takala, The Trainee, 2008. Installation shot, Kiasma 2009. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Hear the Heartbeats of Museum Collections

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

‘Is “contemporary” the name of an art-historical period that has succeeded modernism, or does ‘contemporaneity’ mean that periodization is past (an anachronism from modernity) both in general culture and in art?’  This question from the Australian art historian Terry Smith prompts us to think about the meaning of living today and actively shaping our cultural heritage. Is contemporary art a label for today’s art, or is ‘contemporaneity’ also something that can be found from each historical period?

Art collection is one way of telling our story as a nation. That is a big challenge. What kind of story do we want to tell? And how do we want to be remembered by future citizens and museum visitors from other countries? Who are we, who are those who belong to ‘us’, and how is the nation defined through art? Museum directors need to face these questions every time they plan a new collection display or write an article about one of the museum’s many collections.

The art museum is a collecting institution. The collections of the Finnish National Gallery comprise around 40,000 works of art, objects and an art-historical research archive. The collections are closely integrated into the three museums’ exhibition programmes in the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. In the current edition of FNG Research, all three museum directors reveal the timespan and the guidelines for current acquisitions. Each time has valued its art differently – asking what is important, who are the artists to represent the nation or a particular patron, what is the relationship between private and public collections, whose taste to follow? The exhibition and research activities of the three museums range from contemporary digital art and European old masters to the constitutive history of Finnish art before and after Independence. One time’s novelty is today’s antiquity.

Collection is a wider concept than just the body of works. The organisation of exhibitions and public programmes inside the museum goes hand in hand with acquiring collections. Every year a number of pieces exhibited in the temporary exhibitions programme of the three museums augment the collections: either as purchased works of art, or through documenting them in photographs, artist interviews and research articles. Museums create narratives around the collections and about the collections via arts professionals together with living artists or with the help of documents. The art-historical archive is a treasure, full of artists’ correspondence and notebooks, audio records and media archives, art reviews, and even more.

Contemporary art is created and displayed in a context that is characterised by interaction between local and global culture. Finnish contemporary art, too, has become an important part of the international scene with its biennales, topical museum exhibitions, international artist residencies and art fairs. Kiasma’s collections are currently developed by acquiring important works of contemporary art of outstanding quality, regardless of national or geographic boundaries and yet with an underlying focus on art from nearby regions. Kiasma’s mission is to collect current contemporary art that reflects the times as broadly as possible. Important factors that determine acquisitions are an understanding of the times, fearless vision and sensitivity to phenomena such as network culture. As the Ateneum Art Museum’s Director Susanna Pettersson remarks in her paper in this edition, ‘The trends of the 21st century urge the museum field to share collection resources and to make better and more effective use of collections.’ That is precisely the target we are aiming at in Kiasma too, as we prepare to launch a digital Online Art Collection as a part of the forthcoming ‘ARS17’ exhibition. Through this initiative, online commissions will be made directly accessible to our digital natives wherever they may be.

The collection is the heart of the museum!

Featured image: Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Eye, Phallus and Fantasy: Recurring Figures in the Paintings of Markus Heikkerö

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

First published in Markus Heikkerö. Elämä on turhaa baby… / Life’s a bitch, baby… Edited by Saara Hacklin, this article transl. by Silja Kudel. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 149/2015. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2015

The unbelievable is happening as soon as we open our mouths.[1]

Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, 2003

Listening to Markus Heikkerö, the above statement could not be truer. Memories, anecdotes and incidents from his life become interwoven in an endless saga – much in the same way as copulating cartoon creatures, extra-terrestrials and disfigured human bodies are entwined in the jumbled character gallery of his paintings. The bewildering, sexually fanciful imagery of his 1960s and ’70s paintings finds its match in a colourful array of titles: The Fateful Vermin of Ursus, Necrophiliac Childbirth, The Pegasus Conspiracy and Ali Receives a Commandment by the Red Sea (Self-Portrait). Sexual encounters of sundry descriptions morph into acts of theatrical performativity in his panoramic fantasies.

My personal interest in Heikkerö’s work was piqued by the psychedelically trippy, sexually risqué imagery of his early canvases and their complex allusions both to classical paintings and to Disney iconography: think Mickey Mouse high-fiving protagonists out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. With the passing decades, the boldly explicit content of his canvases has moved in a more metaphorical direction, the exuberant exaggeration of his early work being replaced by larger-scale canvases of exponentially amplified expressivity.

‘Abandoned Orphans’ (1967–68) is an early series of paintings showing the influence of Max Ernst and other surrealists whom Heikkerö has cited as influential to his work. His fascination with surrealism was also inspired by the painter Alpo Jaakola, who was a friend of the family. The weird protagonists and introverted mysticism of Jaakola’s Äänittäjät (The Recorders, 1962) and Uni Erämaassa (Dream in the Wilderness, 1966) offer reference points for reading the sketchily rendered, floundering figures and warped reality of the ‘Abandoned Orphans’ series. Heikkerö was intrigued by Ernst’s 1920s experimental combinations of visual elements in paintings such as Murdering Airplane (1920), Celebes (1921) and Ubu Imperator (1923), which all depict people, animals and machines merging in unsettling states of metamorphosis. Similarly, Ernst created collages by cutting up and re-organising clippings from advertisements and brochures, creating strange anthropomorphic creatures paired with classical sculpted torsos as were common in the work of the surrealists and Italian Metaphysical painters, such as De Chirico.


[1] Royle, Nicholas, 2003. The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 291.

Featured image: Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Artist Markus Heikkerö has donated a large collection of his artworks and his archive to the Finnish National Gallery. To see the artworks, visit

For more information on the archival material, you can access the web publication Markus Heikkerö – Ideasta teokseksi / From Idea to Work of Art at