Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921) woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Artek – a Bridge to the International Art World

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 Also published in Sointu Fritze (ed.), Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ateneum Publications Vol. 93. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2017, 48–69. Transl. Wif Stenger

The exhibitions organised by the Artek gallery enjoy an almost iconic status in the field of Finnish art. These exhibitions were bold and ambitious. The idea behind them was to bring together modern art, industry, interior design and ‘propaganda’, by which was meant publishing activity. The exhibitions also left a lasting mark on Finnish art and on the Ateneum art collection.

‘Europe – its symbol could be […] an airplane above a cathedral. America – its symbol is an airplane above a skyscraper. In the latter picture, there is perfect harmony. In the first there is not. The former represents the present day. The latter, the future.’ [1]

It was with these words that the writer Olavi Paavolainen, in his book Nykyaikaa etsimässä (In Search of Modern Time), published in 1929, expressed his generation’s desire to see the world through new eyes. Finnish artists were accustomed to finding inspiration broadly in European countries, primarily in France, Germany and Italy. Paavolainen had, in his dreams, travelled further afield, as far as New York and Chicago.

Paavolainen’s book tackled three themes: the modern European lifestyle, new trends in art and the new image of humanity. Paavolainen wrote with great passion on behalf of modernity and against conservatism. He emphasised that in ‘developing a modern view of life’ one should pay attention to all the arts, meaning literature, the visual arts, theatre and music. He considered architecture an applied art, regarding Le Corbusier as one of the boldest theorists in his field.[2] Paavolainen sought out the avant-garde spirit in those around him, mentioning by name many Finnish and foreign contemporary artists, writers and architects. However, in his view, in Finland there was only one interesting architect – Alvar Aalto. Paavolainen described him as ‘a practical man with a bold approach and a daring theorist’.[3] And besides, Aalto – unlike many others – travelled by airplane.[4]

[1] Olavi Paavolainen, Nykyaikaa etsimässä (Helsinki: Otava, 1929), 145. Quoted in Finnish as: ‘Eurooppa – sen tunnuskuvana voisi olla […] katedraalin yllä liitelevä lentokone. Amerikka – sen tunnuskuvana on lentokone pilvenpiirtäjän yllä. Viimemainitussa näyssä on täydellinen harmonia. Ensin mainitussa ei. Edellinen esittää nykyisyyttä. Jälkimmäinen tulevaisuutta.

[2] Paavolainen 1929, 29 and 32.

[3] Paavolainen 1929, 51.

[4] Paavolainen 1929, 148.

Featured image: Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921), woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm, Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Alongside the exhibition ‘Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form,’ two conferences are being held at the Ateneum Art Museum: Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form (in English and Finnish), 24 August; Aino Marsio-Aalto as a Designer (in Finnish), 9 September. For full details and programme visit http://www.ateneum.fi/nayttelyt/alvar-aalto/?lang=en

Ilona Harima, Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas, 1947 gouache, 24.5 x 20.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Ilona Harima – On the Road to Enlightenment

Erkki Anttonen, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

First published as a summary of Erkki Anttonen’s article in Hätönen, Helena and Ojanperä, Riitta (eds.), Ilona Harima. Valaistumisen tiellä. Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto (Central Art Archives) 23. Finnish National Gallery / Central Art Archives, 2011. Transl. Diane Tullberg

In 2011, the Finnish National Gallery published a book on the Finnish artist Ilona Harima, whose distinctive art was strongly influenced by Theosophy, Esotericism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. A small exhibition was mounted at the Ateneum Art Museum then, too. Due to the international interest in the history of Theosophy and its relationship to the visual arts FNG Research is republishing an English summary on Harima and her art, which was first published in the above mentioned book

The art produced in Finland during the inter-war period has not yet been fully studied. In particular, the women artists of the period have been given little attention, and some who worked on the fringes of the art world may even have been forgotten. One such is Ilona Harima, who produced highly personal work diverging greatly from the dominant trends of the time.

Ilona Harima (married name Rautiala as of 1939) was born in 1911 in Vaasa on Finland’s west coast. Her parents Samuli and Anna originally had the surname Hohenthal, but changed this to Harima in 1936. Samuli Harima (1879–1962) was a successful Ostrobothnian businessman, influential in economic circles, and the wealth he accumulated allowed his daughter Ilona to pursue a career as a professional artist. In early 1918 her father’s work prompted a family move to Helsinki, and it was here that Ilona went to school, gaining her middle-school leaving certificate in 1927. The following year she began to study art in the graphics department of the Central School of Applied Arts, though she stayed there for only a couple of years at most.

Featured image: Ilona Harima, Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas, 1947. Gouache, 24.5 x 20.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Landscape with sheep (1884, oil on canvas, 22cm x 34.5cm) is one of the paintings to be included in Hanne Mannerheimo’s research – she is especially interested in its green and blue areas. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Dissertation in Progress: Analytical Pigment Studies as a Tool for Art Research

Hanne Mannerheimo, PhD. Student, Museology, University of Jyväskylä / Research Assistant, Materials Research Laboratory, Finnish National Gallery 

This is a brief introduction to my dissertation that concentrates on Finland’s tangible cultural heritage, or more precisely, on the investigation of the materials used to create it. In January 2017, I received a one-year research grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation to make an analytical investigation of pigments used in the work of the most well-known Finnish artists of the 19th century. My aim for the first working year is to concentrate on the pigment palette of Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931). All material analyses will be conducted in co-operation with and under the supervision of the Finnish National Gallery’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj. The material for this research consists of artworks by Gallen-Kallela that are in the possession of the Finnish National Gallery and also the Gallen-Kallela Museum in Tarvaspää, Espoo. I will also analyse pigments and other artists’ materials that belonged to the Gallen-Kallela family and which are now in the collection of the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

Up to now the palette and chronology of pigments used by the great Finnish artists are known only in a few cases. With the help of the grant, Gallen-Kallela’s palette will be thoroughly researched. The data will be of indispensable help in dating and attribution studies, in answering and solving conservation and restoration-related questions and problems, as well as in revealing forgeries. Akseli Gallen-Kallela is one of the most valued Finnish artists and also one whose works have been extensively copied and imitated by art forgers in Finland. The results of the analyses will be published in FNG Research as one or two scientific, peer-reviewed articles, which will be included in my article-based dissertation.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Landscape with sheep (1884, oil on canvas, 22 x 34.5cm) is one of the paintings to be included in Hanne Mannerheimo’s research – she is especially interested in its green and blue areas.
Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

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First Research Interns Appointed at the Finnish National Gallery

The first three research interns of the FNG research internship programme have now been appointed. The selections were made on the basis of written 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

This first round of applications included proposals from students at three Finnish universities, Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Lapland (Rovaniemi). The next round will be organised in autumn 2017 and we hope again to receive applications from art and cultural history students interested in our collections, who are from universities throughout Finland, but also those from other countries.

The FNG research intern programme has two aims. The Finnish National Gallery wishes to enhance the study of its collections, including art works, 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 first research interns of the Finnish National Gallery are:

Max Fritze, University of Helsinki
Collections and archival material relating to the subject: Mikko Carlstedt and Arvo Makkonen Archives, November Group

Aino Nurmesjärvi, University of Jyväskylä
Collections and archival material relating to the subject: ARS 17+ Online Art and other online artworks at the FNG / Kiasma collections, material at the Kiasma and artists and curators interviews

Irene Riihimäki, University of Helsinki
Collections and archival material relating to the subject: The University Drawing School, Helsinki, 1830–1930, and its teachers, and the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society as a point of comparison; The Archive of the Finnish Art Society and the documents related to the teachers in the schools

 

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

The call for research interns for 2018 will be launched at the end of September 2017.

More information: fngr@nationalgallery.fi.

Pink Twins Infinity, 2016 online artwork, accessible at arsplus.kiasma.fi/en/ Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Commission

The Dance of the Digital

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As ARS17 gets underway at Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, visitors will be able to view many of the artworks online from anywhere in the world. The show’s two curators, Marja Sakari and Arja Miller, discuss the implications of online art for museum professionals and its impact on collecting and conservation practices 

I am sitting in a glass-panelled office in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, one of the Finnish National Gallery’s three art museums, in Helsinki, with two of the curators of its upcoming exhibition, ARS17. Over coffee, they show me an artwork that I can access on my smartphone by a Finnish artist duo, Pink Twins. The work, called Infinity, consists of an interactive sound platform, with a library of sound material that I can use to create mixes from four stereo tracks, manipulating them individually to alter the combinations and qualities of the sound. It includes instructions for use, as well as FAQs for ‘visitors’. Once I have created my unique piece of music, then I just save and download the mp3 version, and share in Facebook. Wow, I am an artist! Hello World!

One of the key developments in contemporary art practice this century has been the use of the internet and the possibilities for art-making it offers – like, for example, producing works online. Ever since the American art theorist Lucy Lippard predicted the dematerialisation of the art object in the late 1960s, the trajectory of conceptual art has left an indelible mark on art processes. Now that the millennial generation of digital natives is bringing these ever-evolving new media to the table, art museums and collectors are facing fresh challenges in finding ways not only to curate digital art, but also to collect it. With only a few museums supporting dedicated accessible online art archives – the Whitney Museum in New York being one of the pioneers in the field with its Artport website – Kiasma’s ‘ARS17 Hello World!’ is at the forefront of bringing online art into the fold.

Featured image: Pink Twins, Infinity, 2016, online artwork, accessible during ‘ARS17’ at arsplus.kiasma.fi/en/
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Commission

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ARS 17 Hello World!’ 31 March 2017 – 14 January, 2018, Museum of Contemporary Art
Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki; ‘ARS17+’, visit arsplus.kiasma.fi

Tuomo Rainio: Untitled (Gravitation Waves), 2017 Nimetön (Gravitaatioaallot), 2017 Kiasman komissioteos / Kiasma Commission

The Second Coming of Online Art

Arja Miller, MA, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Leevi Haapala, Eija Aarnio, Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), ARS17 Hello World! Taide internetin jälkeen / Art After the Internet. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 156/2017. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2017, 174–175

‘The internet is a monument to an ever-changing present.’
 Angelo Plessas

‘Program or be programmed.’
 Douglas Rushkoff

Kiasma’s ARS17 exhibition (31 March, 2017 – 14 Jan, 2018) is a response to the global digital revolution and its ubiquitous impact on our culture and daily behaviour. Over the past few years, new technology has radically changed our social relations, our everyday routines and our modes of interacting, communicating, feeling and bringing together communities. The impact of the digital revolution is also inescapably felt in the practice of art, and in the ways that art is presented and collected. A growing spectrum of noteworthy art is native to the internet, where it is also intended to be consumed and enjoyed, either via social media or mobile app. Given that Kiasma’s core mandate is to keep up with the latest trends and most interesting new practices in the field of contemporary art, we felt it was high time we reactivated ourselves as exhibitors and collectors of online works.

The ARS17 exhibition provided a timely impetus for this initiative. Parallel to the physical exhibition, we decided to curate an online exhibition spotlighting digital art and giving this growing genre the attention it deserves. ARS17+ spills outside the gallery walls into the virtual realm, where it can be enjoyed by anyone, any time, virtually anywhere in the world, via mobile device or any web browser/internet connection. Meanwhile, an interesting challenge is posed by the works that will remain permanently in Kiasma’s collection after the exhibition is over: How can our museum maintain and, above all, preserve a wide variety of digital artworks that rely on specific software and devices? How and in what environment will they be accessible after the ARS17 project is over?

Kiasma had already recognised the relevance of the internet as a forum for contemporary art back in the 1990s, when the web was still young and society embraced a wave of cyber-utopianism. Back then, there was a band of interesting Finnish artists busily experimenting with new media. Juha van Ingen and Mikko Maasalo co-organised Finland’s first-ever internet art project in 1995, when the Museum of Contemporary Art was still housed in the Ateneum building.[i] Visitors were invited to participate in the show by deconstructing, manipulating and reorganizing the exhibits as they desired. As related by Van Ingen, the project’s goal was to use art as a vehicle for exploring interactivity – an enduring topic of interest for online artists ever since the inception of the genre.[ii]

[i] The exhibition, ‘Re-evolution’, was listed in the Finnish National Gallery’s programme for 1995 as ‘an art exhibition staged in the Internet’. http://www.hel.fi/hel2/kanslia/historia/Hgin_wwwsivut_1995/matkailu/taidmu/valtaid.html

[ii] Juha van Ingen’s email correspondence with the author, 5.9.2016.

Featured image: Tuomo Rainio: Untitled (Gravitation Waves), 2017
online art work, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Commission

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Portraits of Finnish Artists. Stories of Finnish Art Collections Exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Retelling the Stories of Finnish Art

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

A year on from the opening of ‘Stories of Finnish Art’, the collections exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, Director Susanna Pettersson reflects on how her team went about reinterpreting an art-historical narrative by means of collections display, while designer Marcel Schmalgemeijer explains his innovative approach to the visual presentation of the show

In 2014, when Susanna Pettersson became Director of Helsinki’s Ateneum Art Museum – one of the three museums of the Finnish National Gallery – the elegant Neo-Renaissance building was in the throes of renovation, with its permanent collections squeezed into just three rooms on the ground floor. Pettersson’s appointment was not only timely, but she was also well placed to effect a radical change in reworking the collections display, not only as someone with tailormade academic credentials – she did her PhD on the museum’s collections history – but also as a joint professor of museology with her finger sensitively on the pulse of trends in the field.

‘The building and how it works was very familiar to me,’ says Pettersson, ‘from the time that it started out in October 1888, as well as how the spaces have been used at different times. The collection, which covers the period 1809–1970, is the heart of the Ateneum, so for me it was clear that we needed to move the collections to the ground and first floors and temporary exhibitions to the second floor and I started the process of collecting a core team to discuss this.’ The team Pettersson was working with were looking for new ways to interpret the collection and new approaches to the collections research.

From the vision that resulted in the ‘Stories of Finnish Art’ exhibition that opened in 2016 (continuing through to 2020), two things stand out in the way that Pettersson marshalled these resources. First, she set about cultivating an environment of thinking outside the box, or as she puts it, ‘curiosity as a driver’, and secondly she inspired an unusually wide range of expertise to participate fully in the process.

The usual scenario for an exhibitions team would include a curator or two, designer, someone taking care of the educational side, another handling texts and catalogue, plus core technicians. Pettersson decided instead to gather the ‘largest possible team around the table’ comprising staff from all departments, including front-of-house staff, guides, gallery attendants, technicians, educational staff, research expertise, curators – ‘everyone who had in-house experience, such as visitor experience and how people use the collections and what they do and don’t appreciate.’

The range of expertise Pettersson has drawn on reveals much about her human values. ‘I wanted to discuss how we set up the story with the entire team and that was wonderful process because it also created a sense of ownership by everyone, and we could show each other how much we know about the collection from various perspectives which are not taken for granted. For example, the lived-in experience of someone who has been working as a gallery attendant for the past 20 years is so valuable – they have information that none of us on the curatorial side could ever dream of possessing in the same way.’

Such wide consultation did indeed bring with it some surprises. ‘Creating the story included lots of ideas that needed to be tested and at the end of the day we really had to kill lots of darlings,’ says Pettersson. ‘For example, originally we had the idea of building an entire wall celebrating the history of Finnish female painters and sculptors, but then our guides said that’s not a good idea. One of the arguments was that if we separate the Finnish female painters from the rest of the story it can be regarded as some sort of arrogant gesture. We then decided not to go in that direction and instead we integrated the women artists into the entire exhibition in order to reflect how things were in society at the time.’

Featured image: Portraits of Finnish Artists. ‘Stories of Finnish Art’ collections exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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