Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach´s Portrait of a Young Woman. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepared to mount a major exhibition on Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gill Crabbe met Professor Gunnar Heydenreich, head of the Cranach Digital Archive, who was in Helsinki to make an up-to-date assessment of the museum’s two Cranach paintings

Lucas Cranach the Elder, the 16th-century artist who gained success as court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a man in the right place at the right time. Not only was the artist in the employ of a pioneer of Lutheranism when it was igniting a religious revolution that poured itself into Northern European art and culture; he was also a shrewd businessman with a well trained staff of painting assistants and other craftsmen in one of the most successful workshops of the Reformation. Cranach the entrepreneur profited hugely from a time of transition.

Cranach became court artist and moved to Wittenberg in 1505, setting up a workshop in Wittenberg castle; he then expanded his activities, moving to his own premises in the city around 1511-12. Cranach the Elder and his sons were so successful that more than 1.700 paintings from their workshop are known to be extant almost 500 years later, including altarpieces, court commissions, and private portrait commissions, as well as serial productions of popular themes. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s two particular treasures – Lucretia (1530) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) – were the starting point for conceiving the exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’, and as is often the case, mounting the show provided an opportunity to publish up-to-date research for the exhibition catalogue.

Research on the two Cranach paintings carried out by the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery in the 1980s and 90s was quite extensive and used groundbreaking new techniques for its time. However, in the past year, as part of its preparation for show, the conservation unit started a new research project which involved examining the paintings, taking new images (including IR and X-ray images) and making non-destructive pigment analyses. The museum was then delighted when Professor Gunnar Heydenreich – who is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and widely considered to be the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop – agreed to make a fresh assessment of the two works in its collection. While the provenance of each of the works does not stretch as far back as its origins, Portrait of a Young Woman has been in the Finnish Art Society collection since 1851 and Lucretia had been in a private collection since the 1790s before the Sinebrychoff Art Museum acquired it in 1994.

Featured image: Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

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Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019 Photo: David Parry

Showing Schjerfbeck in London

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The major survey exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which travels to Helsinki in November, marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum and has put Finland’s national treasure firmly on the wider European cultural map. Gill Crabbe met Jeremy Lewison, the lead curator of the exhibition in London, to discuss the significance of Schjerfbeck’s work and how he conceived the show for the Academy’s new gallery space

How did you come across the work of Helene Schjerfbeck?

I first saw her work in an exhibition called ‘Identity and Alterity’, organised by Jean Claire, at the Venice Biennale in 1995, and there were five self-portraits in that show. I remember being struck not only by the power of these portraits but also their imaginative quality and they just seemed to be very different and shocking in many ways – not all of them were late self-portraits, they ranged across her career. I thought, here is an artist I’d like to find out more about. I did nothing until after I had set up on my own and in the Nordic region I came across her work in different places and saw a survey show in Gothenburg around 2009–10. However, at that show I didn’t really have any sense of the coherence of her work and I was not so impressed. But I kept thinking there must be another way of looking at the work, especially as the self-portraits were so powerful, so I began to do my own research. When I was working on the Alice Neel show in Helsinki I was given a copy of the catalogue of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: 150 years’ celebration exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2012) and it was at that point I thought I could put together an interesting exhibition. It took a while to raise a wider interest in the project in London. Then in 2016 I asked if the Ateneum Art Museum would support my effort to organise an exhibition in London. Susanna Pettersson, then Director of the museum, was enthusiastic and I suggested that the Royal Academy of Arts would be the right place.

Why did you suggest the RA?

The Academy mounts both large survey shows in its Main Galleries and mid-scale exhibitions in the Sackler Wing of Galleries and in its new space, the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Since Helene Schjerfbeck had a strong relationship to Old Master painting – and so historically does the RA – I thought the Academy could be an interesting context in which to show her work. I put together a presentation for RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow, curator Sarah Lea and exhibitions producer Andrea Tarsia and they were enthusiastic. That was in 2017. Then it had to go to the RA’s Exhibitions Committee – comprising mainly Royal Academicians – and they approved it. .

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019
Photo: David Parry

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Helene Schjerfbeck, ­ Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Artist Ian McKeever on the Raw Power of Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portraits

Ian McKeever, painter and Royal Academician

First published in the Summer 2019 issue of RA Magazine to coincide with the presentation of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (until 27 October 2019)

‘For I have always found it impossible to resemble myself from one day to the next.’
– Philippe Ricord

‘…I never go around mirrors… it tears me up to see a grown man cry,’ he sang to himself, as he looked into the mirror. The face staring back at him, presumably to others always the same face, was to him barely known. He never could figure out whose skin he was in; for sure it was not his. But then he would not recognise his own skin were it ever to wrap itself around him. How did others deal with this, he wondered? Did they too feel this discomfort, a rub which never eased? Never spoken about, lived with; or was he one of just a few who had what felt like a body on loan. A body he did not fully trust. Committing to something he did not fully know or trust seemed reckless. So he withheld, as if only ever partially present in the world. A part of himself held back, unsure if he had the resilience to endure, survive total immersion. Most of the time he felt truly lost. Things around him, people even, polluted him. Turning him into mere flotsam and jetsam floating aimlessly, without meaning. Becoming just a part of the vague, directionless flow of life. Any meaning which might crystallize itself into something concrete, graspable, eluded him most of the time. So when in those odd moments it did materialise, he hung on to it as if his life depended on it. He turned away from the mirror, casting one last glance into those eyes.

It is 1975. I am in Helsinki. Participating in my first group exhibition abroad. It is an exhibition of SPACE artists, the London-based studio collective, at the Taidehalli, the city exhibition space run by the Finnish Artists’ Union. The city feels dour, grey, emerging as it was from being politically sandwiched between Sweden and the Soviets. Each of the visiting artists has been allocated a Finnish counterpart as minder-cum-guide. Mine is Timo, a painter photographer, who also writes, perhaps a couple of years younger than myself. We get on well. On one of the free days Timo takes me to the Ateneum Art Museum, which houses part of the Finnish national collection of paintings. It is my first introduction to the history of Finnish art. Difficult; I have no reference points. However, Timo is good, he knows his country’s painting tradition, and he helps me to ease my way in. Some works come easier than others; the large snowy landscape of Akseli Gallen-Kallela for instance, I can thread back to a broader context with relative ease. At one point we find ourselves in a gallery of smallish paintings, still-lifes, landscapes and portraits. It is the work of Helene Schjerfbeck, Timo enthuses. I am both curious and nonplussed. Unable to make head or tail of what I am looking at – why the fuss?

Over the following years Timo and I become good friends and I am in Finland fairly regularly. On such visits at some point I invariably find myself standing yet again in front of Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings. They have become a Finnish marker for me. One of those things we use when travelling to tell us we have arrived, be it a croissant in Paris or the mounds of fresh mint in Marrakesh. Paintings too can anchor one from museum to museum, country to country. I have only to stand in front of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s small Portrait of a Young Woman in Funen Art Museum in Odense to know I am slap bang in the middle of Denmark and its culture. For me in Finland this has become Helene Schjerfbeck

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, ­Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Finnish Women Artists in the Modern World

Anu Utriainen, MA, Senior Researcher, Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery

Also in Anu Allas and Tiina Abel (eds.), Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian and Finnish Art. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia, 2019 (to be published in December 2019)

The works of Finnish women artists, and the choices they made both in their lives and careers show how women worked independently in this demanding profession in the early decades of the 20th century. They were forced to strike a balance between expectations and restrictions arising from their gender and their professional goals, as well as from their personal desires. Women who established professional careers in art refused to make concessions regarding the content of their work; they had a firm idea of themselves as artists and were well aware of their abilities and talents. For example, Ellen Thesleff considered herself a creative genius, regardless of gender, while Helene Schjerfbeck wanted to be treated and addressed first and foremost as an artist, without reference to her gender.[1] What is noteworthy is the uncompromising attitude of these women towards their work. Many of them were able to renew themselves as artists even at advanced ages and to learn new techniques.

Although gender was not an obstacle to studies in the fine arts in Finland, many women artists at the turn of the 20th century were nevertheless forced to make choices in their private lives in order to continue in the profession. For example, those who remained unmarried included Fanny Churberg, Ester Helenius, Helmi Kuusi, Sigrid Schauman, Helene Schjerfbeck, Ellen Thesleff and Maria Wiik. Thesleff believed that solitude was part of creative work and a sign of a strong ego.[2] Many others found spouses or partners who were also active in art and culture, among them Ina Colliander, Elin Danielson, Hilda Flodin, Greta Hällfors, Tove Jansson, Tuulikki Pietilä, Elga Sesemann and Venny Soldan.[3] Sigrid Schauman’s solution was perhaps the most radical: she did not marry the father of her daughter and decided to raise her alone. At the time, this was exceptional by any standards and was certainly not socially acceptable for an upper-class woman such as herself.

Women played an important role in the construction of the field of art in Finland in the latter half of the 19th century and later in the portrayal of a modern civic society. They were also bold and innovative, experimenting with styles and forms, as well as techniques. In this essay, I discuss modernist trends in Finnish art from the particular viewpoint of the construction of professional careers for women artists.[4]

 

[1] Konttinen, Riitta 2004. Oma tie. Helene Schjerfbeckin elämä. Helsinki: Otava, 249.

[2] Konttinen, Riitta 2017. Täältä tullaan! Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa. Helsinki: Siltala, 54.

[3] Ina Colliander’s husband was the author Tito Colliander; Elin Danielson married the Italian artist Raffaello Gambogi. Hilda Flodin was married to the painter Juho Rissanen, and Greta Hällfors to the artist Sulho Sipilä. Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä were partners for several decades. Elga Sesemann married a fellow student, the artist Seppo Näätänen. Venny Soldan was married to the author Juhani Aho (Brofeldt).

[4] Even though women played a significant role in the Finnish art scene at the turn of the century, only about 10 per cent of professional artists were women. The number of works acquired for museum collections at the time was the same: around 10 per cent were made by women.

Featured image: Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen#

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Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018: By your Side, stone and double seat, and Atmospheric #1, railing, pole, light, poly bag, light and colour sensor; stone, soundless cracking agent Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Time out of Joint – Temporality and the Anthropocene in Contemporary Art

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

A large rock rests upon one of two blue seats. Another waits on the floor. When the viewer enters the room, they might observe a crack in the first rock – or not. A flickering light bulb wrapped in a plastic bag is attached to a metal railing above. Time is out of Joint 1 (2018), by Sari Palosaari (b. 1974), emulates the atmosphere of an anonymous waiting room, possibly in a hospital or railway station. The static environment belies a hidden tension. Inside the rock is a silent cracking agent that does its work with simple efficacy: a hole is drilled, the cavity is filled, and the agent slowly expands, eventually splitting open the rock.

This article looks at issues of temporality raised by works in the ‘Coexistence’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki – exploring perspectives on the past, present and future, and also ideas about decelerated and accelerated time. The notion of accelerated time is associated with a modernist faith in progress, yet also, to a growing degree, with a rising concern about climate change and discourse on the Anthropocene that raises salient questions about the future and the role that humans will play in it.

Featured image: Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018, Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

From Speciesism to a Possibility of Coexistence

Sanna Karhu, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Gender Studies, Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Soili Petäjäniemi-Brown

Animals and the politics of violence

The relationship of humans to other animal species is contradictory. We think of ourselves as animal-loving and our lives abound with different animal images, whether in clothing, the emojis in text messages or in the everyday entertainment offered to us by cute cat videos. On the other hand, our entire postindustrial way of life is founded on widespread killing of animals: the greatest part of animals living in our society ends up on our plates.

The ‘Coexistence’ collection exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma nudges us to revisit how we perceive our relationship with other species. The exhibition calls into question the place habitually accorded to human beings as above nature and other animals and as their sovereign. In this article I approach the relationship of humans with animals from the perspective of speciesism. I discuss speciesism in the light of climate change but also as a problem of violence. I engage in particular with the relation of factory farming of animals to the history of capitalism and the ensuing need to question naturalised notions of the status of animals in our communities. The questions brought up here concerning communality and coexistence intertwine with my aim of outlining the conditions of a new kind of relationship with animals.

Featured image: Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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paintings, book, plants) on the terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Museum-as-Compost – Matter, Rhythms, and the Nonhuman

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

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

The reconciliation of divergent rhythms – that of a museum and non-human life – is a key issue raised by the display of Immigrant Garden[1], an installation by Kalle Hamm (b. 1969) and Dzamil Kamanger (b. 1948). The work comprises living plants that are governed by the rhythm of nature and conditions determined by the weather and climate. The work unfolds on the museum’s balcony at its own unhurried pace.

The living component in the installation challenges established conventions of displaying art in a museum. With rare exceptions, exhibition dates and museum schedules are carefully planned and locked in. Visiting hours are inflexible, and guided tours adhere to an agreed schedule. The museum is a hermetic space with its own self-regulated rhythm. The presence of plants, however, injects an element of autonomous will. When more-than-humans are brought into the mix, the exhibition of artworks is no longer solely dependent on artists, curators, conservators or technicians.

Posthuman theory renounces established hierarchies in favour of the egalitarian coexistence of all beings. Entrenched anthropocentric notions and habitual patterns of thought have been challenged by feminist theory, but also by postcolonial theorists and environmental activists. Little by little, the idea that plants and other non-human agencies exist solely for the purpose of sustaining human life has correspondingly been deconstructed. The philosopher and feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti argues that all species originate from ‘nature’ and are hence equal: humans are part of the material world just like non-humans. Braidotti uses the term zoe to define the vitality and energy that flows through all matter. Zoe is distinct from bios, which represents an anthropocentric viewpoint on life. Zoe thus offers a conceptual tool for subverting anthropocentrism and embracing interspecies equality.[2]

[1] Immigrant Garden, by Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger, also includes 26 watercolour paintings of plants, a map, written texts and sound recordings of illustrated botanical samples. The plants in question are commonly assumed to be native Finnish species, but they all originate from different parts of the globe. This article focuses on the organic component of the installation and its relationship with the museum.

[2] Rosi Braidotti, ‘Four Theses on Posthuman Feminism’, in Richard Grusin (ed.), Anthropocene Feminism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 21–35.

Featured image: Kalle Hamm and Dzamil Kamanger, detail from Immigrant Garden, 2006-18, shown on the terrace of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, plants (the complete art work includes paintings, book, plants). Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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