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

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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Three Research Interns Appointed at the Finnish National Gallery for 2019

The three research interns of the FNG research internship programme for 2019 have been appointed. The selections were made based on the applications and the following points were underlined:

  • The point of view of the archives and collections: 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/or topical materials
  • Preparation of the working plan and the research questions related to the chosen collections material

The FNG research intern programme has two aims. The Finnish National Gallery wishes to enhance the study of its collections, including artworks, archives, and objects. At the same time we wish to support students who choose to write their master’s-level theses on subjects based on physical collections and objects, archive material and data.

The research interns of the Finnish National Gallery for 2019 are:

Emma Lilja, University of Helsinki

Artworks by Sami artists in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and archival material related to them, including interviews

Mariliis Rebane, University of Helsinki

Exhibitions at the Ateneum: changes in exhibition design (the shift from salon hanging to the white cube); photographs of exhibitions from 1890s onwards, Archive of the Finnish Art Society (minutes, exhibition lists), press cuttings collection and other related archival material

Eljas Suvanto, University of Helsinki

The donation of artworks made by the art collector and Master of Law with court training Arvid Sourander to the Fine Arts Academy of Finland (now the Finnish National Gallery), with a focus on the donation of over 30 artworks by the Finnish painter Fanny Churberg (1845–1892) in 1940: art collection of the Finnish National Gallery, Archives of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland and Professor Aune Lindström, press cuttings collection

The internship period is for three months. All of the interns will have their own in-house tutors to support them with studying their chosen material.

The call for research interns for 2020 will be launched in autumn 2019. We hope again to receive applications from art and cultural history students interested in our collections, who are from different universities in Finland, but also those from other countries.

For more information about the FNG’s research internship programme: fngr@nationalgallery.fi

Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

Encounters between Art, Humanity and the Modern

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

Also published in Anu Utriainen (ed.), Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century. Ateneum Publications Vol. 105. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2018, 10–30. Transl. Mike Garner

Without the concepts of modernity, modernism and modernisation, it would be hard to talk about the arts of the 20th century and about their relationship with the reality of their own time. Modernisation, as a societal and social phenomenon from the first decades of the 19th century onwards, meant rapid technological development, industrialisation and urbanisation. As the means of livelihood and the norms regulating communities changed, individual people’s lives and living environments changed, too. Art also changed and particularly rapidly in the early years of the 20th century, when the old societal structures of western countries with monarchies were creaking at the seams.[1]

From the 19th century onwards one of the major ideological and political shifts in European modernisation was the strengthening of the ideal of the nation and the founding of nation states. Technological development went hand in hand with innovations in the sciences and created the potential for unprecedented economic growth. The spiritual and practical ascendancy of ecclesiastical institutions was called into question and rational information offered itself as a basis for modern world views. Individuals appeared to have a new potential to shape their own lives and surroundings through education and new channels of social influence. The option of calling into question and breaking down trade, class and gender boundaries that predetermined people’s lives, if and when they were experienced as a threat to self-determination, has contributed to the modern conception of what it is to be human.

[1] See Hobsbawm, Eric. Äärimmäisyyksien aika. Lyhyt 1900-luku (19141991). Tampere: Osuuskunta Vastapaino 1999 [original English The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991, 1994]. In his brief history of the 20th century Hobsbawm ties the modern and especially the history of avant-garde art into being a fixed part of the century’s historical development.

Featured image: Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

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Helena Pylkkänen, Masculine / Recumbent Torso, 1986–87, bronze, 68cm x 42cm x 36cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

The Nude Stripped of Dignity

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

Also published in Anu Utriainen (ed.), Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century. Ateneum Publications Vol. 105. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2018, 138–66. Transl. Don McCracken

The nude body has appeared in visual art and culture in myriad ways and styles; it has been interpreted from different starting points throughout history and imbued with various meanings. The nude has reflected transitions, both within the arts and in broader historical, political and social contexts, and it reveals changes in the concepts of beauty, morality, and attitudes towards gender. As an art object, the nude exposes the model’s surface and depth: especially in the modern age, the nude is an image of both the human form and the psyche.

It is worth asking why and for whom the nude image has been created, and in what context it should be viewed and interpreted. The classic male nude is presented in Western art as a heroic, universal subject, or a mythological deity.[1] The body of a naked man has also been perceived as a sensuous object, but it is not automatically regarded as an object of sexual desire, despite its virility and masculinity. A traditional male nude was portrayed as self-motivated, actively shaping his own world, while women found themselves subject to a demeaning erotic gaze, stripped not only of clothing, but also of their power and autonomy. Masculinity symbolises both vitality and a well-developed mental and intellectual capacity. In contrast to his female counterpart, the male nude embodies a potent mix of power, control and agency, and the gaze appears to be directed outwards from the work of art towards the spectator, rather than the other way around.[2]

[1] See Natter, Tobias G. & Leopold, Elisabeth (eds). Nude Men: From 1800 to the Present Day. Exhibition catalogue, Leopold Museum, Vienna 19.10.201228.1.2013. Munich: Hirmer 2012.

[2] E.g. Solomon-Godeau, Abigail. Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation. London: Thames & Hudson 1997, 33–35. In Finland, Marja-Terttu Kivirinta has addressed Modernism and modernisation in her dissertation, e.g. through the concept of biopower, cf. Kivirinta. Vieraita vaikutteita karsimassa. Helene Schjerfbeck ja Juho Rissanen. Sukupuoli, luokka ja Suomen taiteen rakentuminen 1910–20-luvulla. Helsinki: University of Helsinki 2014.

Featured image: Helena Pylkkänen, Masculine / Recumbent Torso, 1986–87, bronze, 68cm x 42cm x 36cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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