The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society, painting class in 1899. In the front row from left Väinö Hämäläinen, Thyra Malmström, Maria Boehm, and Agnes Leidenius. In the middle from left: Hanna Hirn, Ester Hougberg, Lydia Bäckström, and Karin Nordensvahn. In the back row from left: Edit Petander, Bruno Hahl, teacher Albert Gebhard (1869–1937), nude model and Sigrid Lehrbäck. Photographer Jakob Ljungqvist, Helsinki 1899. The Väinö Hämäläinen Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Restructuring Art-historical Canons

Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

 

26 March 2019

 

All art historians most probably know Linda Nochlin’s ground breaking article with its challenging title ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ (ARTnews, January 1971). The feminist approach and growing interest in women artists who were left out of the canon of art history is echoed also in the Finnish art history scene and research on Finnish artist women has been published, especially from the 1980s onwards.

Reorganising art-historical canons seems not to be a quick and easy process but rather one that involves generations of researchers, curators and other actors of the art world. Let us take as an example the Swedish painter who has her first solo show in the United States at the Guggenheim, New York, up to the 23 April. Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) is among the artists who were presented in the exhibition ‘The Spiritual in Art’ and its comprehensive catalogue in 1986 and thus her name has been known at least by those art historians who have been interested in spiritual ideas connected with art. Now the time seems to be right for establishing her rightful status in the history of pioneering abstract artists. In this issue Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff is writing in the context of a current exhibition at the Ateneum, about František Kupka who, on the other hand, is among the recognized abstract painters from the early 1900s.

Interestingly, the Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) was born the same year as Hilma af Klint. Schjerfbeck’s art is exceptionally well represented in the Finnish National Gallery’s collections and has so far been shown, for example, in Paris, Hamburg and in several venues in Japan. An exhibition arranged by the Royal Academy of Arts in London and co-curated by the RA and the FNG, is opening in July. Current trends of looking at modernity in art from angles other than solely the aspiration towards abstract expression, are apt to pave the way for deepening recognition of artists like Schjerfbeck in the context of European modern art. In an interview published in this issue of FNG Research Marja Sakari, who has recently taken up her new role as director of the oldest of our three museums, the Ateneum, discusses research prospects, such as those concerning women artists.

Art-historical canons have traditionally been based on the idea of individual artists implementing exceptional or even heroic human creativity in the anthropocentric modern world. In this issue of FNG Research Satu Oksanen, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, discusses the work of Alma Heikkilä, a contemporary artist woman whose solo exhibition is shown in the museum. Heikkilä challenges both the anthropocentric world view and the traditional idea of unique and individual authorship in art. Her art practice is linked with environmental issues and human impacts on ecosystems. As Oksanen writes: ‘During this epoch of ecological threat, taking action means searching for new ways of existing, speculating, and recognising the agency of the non-human. (…) Heikkilä strives to broaden the scope of authorship beyond the individual, dismantling structural hierarchies and making space for more-than-human agencies. In doing so, she challenges not only anthropocentrism, but also museum conventions.’

Featured image: The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society, painting class in 1899. In the front row from left Väinö Hämäläinen, Thyra Malmström, Maria Boehm, and Agnes Leidenius. In the middle from left: Hanna Hirn, Ester Hougberg, Lydia Bäckström, and Karin Nordensvahn. In the back row from left: Edit Petander, Bruno Hahl, teacher Albert Gebhard (1869–1937), nude model and Sigrid Lehrbäck. Photographer Jakob Ljungqvist, Helsinki 1899. The Väinö Hämäläinen Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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

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František Kupka, Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours 1912, oil on canvas, 211cm x 220cm. National Gallery in Prague

František Kupka: Sounding Abstraction – Musicality, Colour and Spiritualism

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen, Hanne Selkokari and Lene Wahlsten (eds.), František Kupka. Ateneum Publications Vol. 114. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2019, 11–25. Transl. Tomi Snellman

The art of František Kupka (1871–1957) has intrigued artists, art historians and exhibition visitors for many decades. Although nowadays Kupka’s name is less well known outside artistic circles, in his day he was one of the artists at the forefront in creating abstract paintings on the basis of colour theory and freeing colours from descriptive associations. Today his energetic paintings are still as enigmatic and exciting as they were in 1912, when his completely non-figurative canvases, including Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours and Amorpha, Warm Chromatics, created a scandal when they were shown in the Salon d’Automne in Paris. It marked a turning point in many ways, not least in the decision of the Gaumont Film Company to use Kupka’s abstract works for the news in cinemas in France, Germany, the United States and England.[1] And as we will see, Kupka’s far-reaching shift to abstraction was a long process which grew partly out of his childhood interest in spiritualism and partly from Symbolist and occultist ideas to crystallise into the concept of an art which could be seen, felt and understood on a more multisensory basis. Kupka’s art reflects the idea of musicality in art, colour and spiritualism. The transition period in which these ideas influenced his art, from 1907 to 1912, reveals a process which led to Kupka’s contribution as a member of the important group of artists who followed a spiritual path to produce non-figurative, abstract art.

[1] Markéta Theinhardt and Pierre Brullé 2012, ‘František Kupka’s Salons.’ In Helena Musilová (ed.), František Kupka: The Road to Amorpha. Kupkas Salons 18991913. Prague: National Gallery Prague, 41–43, 115.

Featured image: František Kupka, Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours 1912, oil on canvas, 211cm x 220cm. National Gallery in Prague

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Alma Heikkilä, 2019

One Among Many. Alma Heikkilä’s Work for the Kiasma Commission by Kordelin

Satu Oksanen, MA, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

This is an edited version of Satu Oksanen’s article, ‘One Among Many’, in Satu Oksanen (ed.), Kiasma Commission by Kordelin: Alma Heikkilä. Nykytaiteen museon julkaisuja / A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 165/2019. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2019 (published April 2019). Transl. Silja Kudel

Through painting, Alma Heikkilä (born 1984) strives to reach out to organisms that are undetectable by the human senses due to their microscopic size, or some other kind of inaccessibility – microbes, spores, algae, the interior debris of dead trees, or colonies of lichen growing inside a rock. Heikkilä alerts our senses to the tiniest, most invisible array of life forms that can usually be perceived only with the aid of devices like microscopes. In her paintings Heikkilä enlarges these organisms and their worlds to such an extreme, that they diminish the human viewer with their vast scale.

The surfaces and motifs of paintings provide habitats – bodies – for various life forms: sea, decaying wood, intestines and forest ecosystems. In turn they inhabit the space of the museum.

Heikkilä collaborates with various co-beings – scholars, artists, organisms and materials. She reflects on multi-species’ coexistence by fusing scientific knowledge with personal experience. Her approach is rhizome-like, pulling together multiform modes of thought, producing knowledge through dialogue, and allowing materials to interact spontaneously with each other, with ongoing back-and-forth movement between these domains.

Featured image: Alma Heikkilä, installation view of the exhibition‘ , ’ /~` mediums,.’_ ” bodies,.’_ ” ° ∞  logs,∞ ‘ , ‘ /~` ‘ holes, .’ `-. ` .’ — °habitats / /`   ‘ * ‘-‘ . ’ , ’ /~`want to feel (,) you inside \| * . . * * \| * . . *./. .-. ~ .’ ‘ , ‘ /~` ❅ ☼ ~
Kiasma Commission by Kordelin, Kiasma’s Studio K Gallery, on view from 15 March – 27 July 2019. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Alma Heikkilä: the Kiasma Commission by Kordelin, is open 15 March – 27 July 2019, at Kiasma’s Studio K Gallery, Helsinki

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Search and Search Again

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

 

24 January 2019

 

Last November (29–30.11.2018), the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki, along with the Art History Department of Helsinki University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, got together to organise a two-day conference, ‘Connoisseurship in Contemporary Art Research’, which had as its theme the importance of the archival approach in research into contemporary art. One of the highlights was Katharina Günther’s presentation, which was based on the results of her year-long residency at the City Gallery in Dublin. Her research project was concentrating on the material from Francis Bacon’s London studio, which had been transported from London to Dublin in 1998 in the exact same condition as it had been left when Bacon died. She worked with the original material in the studio with a variety of items, from photographs to all kinds of ephemera. Seemingly worthless material transformed, in the hands of the researcher, into authentic evidence. With that material, she was able to prove that despite Bacon’s own observations that art has nothing to do with illustration, most of his artworks were based on everyday media images. The composition, details and figures were often borrowed almost identically from images published in printed media.

For a researcher, material that has previously gone unnoticed, has been abandoned or considered as apparently unimportant might become the very core of the research and a source of new knowledge.

In this first issue of FNG Research in 2019, two researchers are presenting their new findings. Both articles are good examples that show how important it is to study profoundly different archives and to experience original material. For these researchers, archival material and the rereading of the material in connection to previous research, is of utmost importance.

Both Sandra Lindblom – whose article is dealing with the early career of the painter Eva Cederström – and Antonella Perna – who has as her topic the friendship, mutual respect and influence of two scholars of Asian art and culture – base their research on letters, diaries and other archival materials.

Lindblom, whose article is resulting from the research internship at the FNG, writes in her preface: ‘The study reassesses and gives new information about the narrative on Cederström’s early career, using previously unstudied archive material, drawings and paintings.’ In her article she is able to show that Cederström eschewed the label of being a woman artist, but at the same time she was the victim of conventions prevailing pre- and post- Second World War. Despite her talent and passion for art she was obliged take on office work because of lack of money. With the archival material Lindblom shows the contradictions in the start of Cederström’s career. Her early years as an artist contained ‘failures, successes, institutional support and economic problems’. The article points out that despite her being appreciated as a promising artist at an early phase, she couldn’t advance as an artist in the way she would have wanted. Being a woman was significant, it seems.

Antonella Perna writes in her peer-reviewed article how her attention was drawn to the relationship and position of Osvald Sirén in Italian studies of Asian culture by a single letter in the Sirén Archive in Stockholm. According to that letter, Sirén was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Rome La Sapienza. To Perna this single letter was not sufficient to explain why this happened and she started to look for other evidence to find out why he was honoured this way. Perna found the evidence in the correspondence of Sirén with the Italian scholar of Asian studies, Giuseppe Tucci. Perna is revealing new knowledge of this relationship. She writes: ‘since there are no previous studies on the relationship with Tucci, I would like to present a first analysis of unpublished letters and other archival material that can throw some light on this aspect of Sirén’s professional life: his particular role in the development of Oriental scholarship in Italy.’

***

I started to write this editorial for the FNG Research issue just when the annually organised Days for Science were about to start. In the main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, there was an interview with three academics, namely the former rector and chancellor of the University of Helsinki Risto Ihamuotila, Professor of Cosmology Kari Enqvist and researcher of political history, Johanna Vuorelma. They all defended the significance of the sciences, the meaning of knowledge based on facts and profound research, at a time of the increasing dominance of social media, when it is possible to spread all kinds of knowledge just with one keystroke.

According to them, in science it is important to understand that knowledge is constantly changing and that it is always important to recheck already existing information: what we know and what can be known (Helsingin Sanomat 9 January 2019). In undertaking this kind of rechecking, the role of archives and the development and deeper understanding of their content is extremely important.

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Bodhisattva, Qi Dynasty, 6th century, donated by Osvald Sirén to the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome. Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma Photo: Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma

Peer-Reviewed Article: ‘A Satisfaction to the Heart and to the Intellect’

A Note on Osvald Sirén’s Connections with Italy through his Epistolary

Antonella Perna, PhD Candidate, University of Turku

A few years ago, I was visiting the Sirén Archive in Stockholm (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) researching the letters Osvald Sirén (1879–1966) had written to the Italian art historian Lionello Venturi (1885–1961).[1] Sirén was a Finnish-born art historian who lived for most of his life in Sweden. However, he worked for some time as the art advisor to the Finnish entrepreneur and collector Paul Sinebrychoff (1859–1917). His expertise covered 18th-century Swedish art and Old Masters and thus he could secure some extremely fine examples that found their way into the Finnish collection. Today the works are part of the Finnish National Gallery Collection and can be visited at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki.[2] With this article I aim to shed new light on Sirén’s international career and the impact of his professional networking on the Italian art history scene.

Sirén and Venturi had shared an interest in Italian art history, and in particular the Italian Primitives. Among the letters I read, there was one that caught my attention, although it was not especially pertinent to my primary interest. It was addressed by Sirén to his Italian colleague.[3] In it a rather moved Sirén wrote to Venturi, both an old friend[4] and the spokesman of the Faculty, expressing his gratitude for the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa he had received from the University of Rome La Sapienza.[5] Sirén explained to Venturi that he was glad that his ‘contributions in the fields of Oriental and Italian art’ had been acknowledged as important. He also added he especially appreciated such recognition because of his personal ‘intellectual connection and artistic devotion to Italy’.[6] The official motivation for awarding the honorary degree, granted by the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy[7], emerges in another letter sent by the dean Angelo Monteverde: it was granted for the ‘high merits reached in the field of art-historical research’.[8] These facts alone, however, do not explain the reasons and the events leading to the award. I thus became interested in understanding the circumstances surrounding such recognition in a country where Sirén had neither maintained any institutional position nor any official role.

[1] The research was connected to my doctoral thesis which deals with the relationship between Sirén and Venturi in the 1920s and will be examined in 2019.

[2] The collection was donated and belongs to the Finnish State.

[3] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[4] The circumstance of their first encounter is uncertain. However, the two scholars were part of the same network of intellectuals involved with Italian Primitive Art, including Bernard Berenson and Adolfo Venturi. Antonella Perna, ‘Osvald Sirénin matka Italian taidehistoriaan.’ In Teppo Jokinen & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Italiassa ja Saksanmaalla. Taiteilijoiden ja taiteentuntijoiden matkassa 18401930. (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2011), 267–75.

[5] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[6] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[7] Both the departments of Art history and Eastern studies are still part of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Rome La Sapienza. While it had been possible to study art history from 1896 onwards, the curriculum of Eastern studies (Eastern Religions and philosophies) was inaugurated only in 1932. More specifically teaching on Eastern art history was available starting from 1953. https://web.uniroma1.it/diso/chi-siamo (accessed 4 September 2017).

[8] Letter from Angelo Monteverdi to Sirén, 20 March1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

Featured image: Bodhisattva, Qi Dynasty, 6th century, donated by Osvald Sirén to the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome. Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma
Photo: Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma

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Eva Cederström, Self-portrait, 1937, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 51cm. Lappeenranta Art Museum Photo: Lappeenranta Art Museum / Tuomas Nokelainen

‘I could give up everything to live only for painting’

Eva Cederström’s Career and Artist Identity 1927–39

Sandra Lindblom, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery [1]

Introduction

And now, comes praise for the female painters! Ill be damned if we men also in this regard are beaten by the fairer sex! […] Eva Cederströms paintings in the southern hall sing out high. No. 39, June Morning in the Atelier, is a piece of true painting. She is no nervous man, Eva. She is not weighed down by complexes, she paints straight from the heart. The result is fresh, powerful and beautiful paintings.[2]

It was in this manner that the art critic Hjalmar Hagelstam (1899–1941) praised the work that Eva Cederström (1909–95) had brought to the ‘Finnish Artists’ Exhibition’ in Helsinki Kunsthalle in the spring of 1939. Instead of simply giving recognition to Cederström’s work, he constantly refers to her gender and the competition between the sexes in the art field. In general, the 1930s texts on art have a tendency to emphasise the gender of female artists.[3] Gender affected the expectations placed on artists, and there were certain prejudices among critics and art institutions against female artists.[4] Women were artists and studied art,[5] but they did not have the same starting point for their careers as their male colleagues. Only a few women had influential positions in Finland.[6]

My original interest in Eva Cederström’s early career was caught by a desire to understand how it was to start a career as a female artist in a time like this. As I familiarised myself with earlier research and previously unstudied archive material, it became increasingly clear that it was hard to answer this question since the details on Cederström’s early career were so vague. Unlike the art critics, Cederström herself seemed to perceive gender as a minor part of her identity as an artist. Examining Cederström’s career development only from a gendered perspective seemed problematic, as it was affected by several factors. Conducting further biographical research therefore became the principal focus of this article. Then, based on this research, I also draw conclusions as to how gender played its part.

[1] Quotation in the title of the article: ‘Voisin antaa kaikki saadakseni yksin maalaukselle elää.’ Eva Cederström’s diary 29 March 1938. Eva Cederström Archive (ECA). Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (FNG), Helsinki.

[2] ‘Och nu, på ny kula fram för en hyllning av målarinnorna! är det inte som tusan, att vi karlar också i denna sak få på tafsen av det täcka könet! […] [H]ögt smälla nu Eva Cederströms målningar i södra salen. N:r 39 ‘Junimorgon i ateljén’ är ett stycke verkligt måleri. Hon är ingen rädder karl, hon Eva. Hon samlar ej på komplex av bundhet, hon målar på rätt ut ur hjärtat. Och resultaten äro friska starka och vackra målningar.’ Hjalmar Hagelstam, ‘Finska konstnärerernas XLVII årsutställning’, Svenska Pressen 13 April 1939. All translations in this article are by the author.

[3] There is an ongoing discussion on the use of terminology concerning female artists in the field of art history. Researchers such as Griselda Pollock advocate the use of the term ‘artist woman’ as the term ‘female artist’ also holds historical, negative connotations. Using the term ‘female artist’ also unfairly puts a focus on the gender of female artists, whereas gender is seldom emphasised in the case of male artists. The term ‘female artists’ also implicitly states that women are not included in the term ‘artist’. In my study I will use the term ‘female artist’ as an operative term, as my study also investigates the ways of perceiving what it means to be a female artist in the 1930s and 1940s.

[4] Rakel Kallio has written about the prejudice of the art historians Onni Okkonen and Edvard Richter towards young female artists. Rakel Kallio, ‘Taidekritiikki ja sukupuoli-ideologia’ in Riitta Nikula (ed.), Nainen, taide, historia, Taidehistorian esitutkimus 1985–1986 (Helsinki: Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 10, 1987), 240.

[5] The percentages of female art students in 1923–35 was approximately 40.5 per cent. The Finnish Art Society’s annual reports 1923–35. Helsinki: Suomen Taideyhdistys 1924–36.

[6] There were some women holding influential positions in the art field, such as museum curator Aune Lindström and art critics Sigrid Schauman and Signe Tandefelt. Kristina Linnovaara, Makt, konst, elit – konstfältets positioner, relationer och resurser i 1940- och 1950-talens Helsingfors (Helsingfors: Statens konstmuseum, 2008), 120–24.

Featured image: Eva Cederström, Self-portrait, 1937, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 51cm. Lappeenranta Art Museum
Photo: Lappeenranta Art Museum / Tuomas Nokelainen

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