Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

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


25 March 2020


As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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

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


27 March 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Alanen, Lemminkäinen and the Cowherd, 1919–20, tempera on canvas, 50cm x 64cm. Collection Maine Wartiovaara née Alanen, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: European Revivals Ten Years On

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


20 January 2020


Dear Readers,

As we enter a new decade, the FNG Research magazine is proud to launch a special collection of art-historical articles under the title European Revivals. From Dreams of a Nation to Places of Transnational Exchange. Released to coincide with an international conference this month, this publication marks the culmination of the ‘European Revivals’ research project and its accompanying series of six international conferences inaugurated in Helsinki in 2009 with subsequent conferences held also in Oslo, Krakow and Edinburgh.

On this occasion the Finnish National Gallery extends its warmest thanks to all those individuals and organisations who have taken part in and committed to realising the vision for the ‘European Revivals’ project and its research publication. Working together with our colleagues and international collaborators on both an intellectual and a practical level has been most interesting and inspiring.

The reason behind the project was to stimulate debate and reflect upon the phenomena surrounding European national revivals by bringing together and analysing the multifarious connections and correspondences that have helped to shape the identities of modern European nations. In 2009, the question of national revivalist discourses in art and art-historical research was a topical subject at the Finnish National Gallery, which had just opened a comprehensive exhibition of Finnish art based on motifs from The Kalevala past and present.

Towards the end of the 19th century, European artists began to express a new and profound interest in their unique local pasts and cultural inheritances. This growing sense of national identity prompted a major flowering of debate concerning the rapidly disappearing regional cultures throughout Europe. This was a debate that was largely shaped by the desire within several countries for cultural and artistic, and ultimately social and economic, independence. It resulted in creating new art that sought modern interpretations and links with local roots. It also resulted in art-historical and cultural historical narratives in which the uniqueness of the narratives of national or local histories were emphasised.

It was clear that art-historical scholarship on the subject had been broadly established, but the ‘European Revivals’ project aimed to examine parallel phenomena from a more wide-scale international perspective. Our key interest was to look at the similarities of these narratives, rather than their differences. In the course of the project, this approach turned out to raise lively interest among art historians in both museums and across academia.

From the outset, the project aimed to work towards producing a scientific publication which would cover the most interesting topics to have emerged over the ten years of its activities. We therefore invited several scholars who had participated in European Revivals conferences to submit articles for this publication. These peer-reviewed articles have been developed from the original papers given between 2009 and 2017.

As well as publishing research articles and other information concerning the Finnish National Gallery’s research activities, we are continuing to develop our research intern programme. Each year, we recruit for a period of three months up to three, master’s-level art history students to study a chosen topic arising from material in our research archives. The aim is to publish an article based on their research process, supported and tutored by our in-house professionals.

From the applications received last year, two research interns for 2020 have been selected. Karita Kivikoski, from the University of Helsinki, is studying the artist Leena Luostarinen and her artistic output during the 1980s–90s from the point of view of the reception of her works and discourse analysis. She will be researching press clippings, interviews and exhibition catalogues related to Luostarinen and her art works in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery. Olga Korka, from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, is studying Ilya Repin’s years in Finland and the Finnish-Russian cultural relations based on Repin-related archival material and Repin’s art works in the collections of the Finnish National Gallery.

The call for research interns for 2021 will be launched in autumn 2020. During this year, the FNG Research magazine will be published every second month, continuing its in-depth exploration of the research interests behind the Finnish National Gallery’s three museums’ exhibition programmes. We also invite scholars to submit articles that are linked with or relevant to our extensive collections.

Wishing you all a most inspiring new decade,

Dr Riitta Ojanperä

Featured image: Joseph Alanen, Lemminkäinen and the Cowherd, 1919–20, tempera on canvas, 50cm x 64cm. Collection Maine Wartiovaara née Alanen, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Editorial: Support Strategies

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


27 November 2019


When I first read the articles for this edition of FNG Research, I did not think there was any particular connection between them. The articles covered curatorial issues, a doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, and a conference paper on the theme of the subjectile and the play between immateriality and materiality. However, a closer look reveals that, in fact, they all have quite a lot in common. Ari Tanhuanpää’s article is based on his contribution for this autumn’s Tahiti 8 conference and is titled ‘All the Leaves in the World: the Subjectile as a Problem’. Tanhuanpää claims in his article that paper, or indeed any other support in an artwork, is something that oscillates between materiality and immateriality.

In the same way, I suppose, curatorial work is the invisible or immaterial aspect that constitutes a support for the artworks to be displayed in an exhibition. The public won’t necessarily notice the curatorial decisions but these play an important part in the narrative of the exhibition. The curatorial underpinnings make visible some issues and ideas, whereas others might remain obscured.

In an exhibition display, the entire design can be thought as the subjectile. The colours of the walls, and the arrangement and juxtaposition of the artworks are there to emphasise meaning. But for the audience the support remains ‘immaterial’ in the same sense that in Tanhuanpää’s article Susanne Gottberg’s plywood support stays quasi-unseen and immaterial as the background for her images.

I am writing this editorial in Paris, having visited many exhibitions here and also in London. The context gives meaning. For example, today we look very differently at the portraits by Gauguin, following the #Metoo debate, as we also look differently at the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’ exhibition in the context of the current discoveries about women in art. Then again, even when an exhibition is mounted within a ‘white cube’ context, with its neutral background, as was the case in the 1950s, it has significance, as Mariliis Rebane points out in her article revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959. The white cube underlines the modernist idea of artworks being something by themselves. Any kind of stories would just disturb the purity of painting.

The modernist purity of painting is disrupted in Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, as Patrik Nyberg discusses in the interview with Marja Lahelma and Gill Crabbe. In his doctoral thesis, Painted Faces: the Self-Portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck, Modernism and Representation, Nyberg argues that the idea within modernism, that a painting should not interact with the viewer but be its autonomous self, is interrupted in Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits. I also link Nyberg’s ideas on Schjerfbeck’s painting to the discussion of the immaterial and material support for painting. She was actually using the support of the canvas as an essential part of the painting by scratching paint away, having first covered the canvas with it.

This issue of FNG Research is published to coincide with the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition that has travelled from London to the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. Almost all of the works that were shown in the London exhibition are also on display in the Helsinki show. Yet these two exhibitions are nevertheless very different. This becomes evident in Gill Crabbe’s interview with Chief Curator of the Ateneum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, who was a key player in the curation of the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in both London and Helsinki. The Helsinki version is different because, in addition, it contains many works that were not shown in London. But the essential difference is more on a conceptual level. As the article states: ‘While the London exhibition was very much an introduction to Schjerfbeck’s work, based on in-depth research covering her entire career, and giving centre stage to the artist’s remarkable body of self-portraits, the Helsinki show required a different treatment for an artist who is a household name in Finland and who is regarded as a national treasure.’

The research projects continue, and the next issue of FNG Research will concentrate on the results of the European Revivals research project. The Finnish National Gallery is also organising the project’s concluding conference in January 2020. Registration is now open – visit for the conference programme and how to register..

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1525, oil on panel, 41cm x 27cm. O. W. Klinckowström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Editorial: On the Trail of the Old Masters

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki


24 September 2019


Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) the great German Renaissance Master, and Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946), one of the most well-known Finnish women painters, are taking centre stage in Helsinki and in London in two important exhibitions.

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’ presents an area of Cranach’s oeuvre that has received less attention: female beauty and nudes. The starting point for the exhibition concept was the only two Cranach paintings located in Finland, which belong to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum collections: Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) and Lucretia (1530). This is the first monographic exhibition of Cranach to take place in Finland and includes paintings and prints from across Europe’s collections.

We decided to revisit our two Cranach paintings in terms of technical investigation, as well as art-historical research in connection to the forthcoming exhibition. Portrait of a Young Woman was studied comprehensively about 30 years ago, but now there is extensive new technical research data about Cranach’s work that is easily accessible to researchers through Cranach Digital Archive project. At the same time research by art historians has deepened our understanding of Cranach’s art.

Professor Gunnar Heydenreich is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop. We are really delighted and grateful that Dr Heydenreich had time to travel to Helsinki and study the paintings together with our specialists. In this issue we publish an interview with Dr Heydenreich, by Gill Crabbe. The article paints a vivid picture of the art-historical research today and and the refined technical methods used nowadays by conservators in studying works of art.

The major exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum. The show will travel to Helsinki later in the autumn. We publish an interview with independent curator Jeremy Lewison who put together the exhibition along with the co-curators Anna-Maria von Bondsdorff, who is Chief Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, and the RA’s Sarah Lea. Lewison describes the powerful impact Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits had on him, and how they have also been given a significant role in the exhibition. He also emphasises Schjerfbeck’s strong connection with Old Master painting, underlining her engagement with the tradition and her own transformation of it within the modern or the early modernist tradition. Also in this issue, the painter and Royal Academician Ian McKeever reflects on Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits in the context of the development of this genre in Western art. Meanwhile, curator Anu Utriainen offers a more general view on women artists who were active in Finland during the early 20th century in her article dealing with historical, economic and social aspects. This article is also in the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian and Finnish Art’ that opens at Kumu, Art Museum of Estonia, in Tallinn on 6 December 2019.

Also in this issue the Finnish National Gallery announces its fourth Call for Research Interns, for 2020.

Finally a reminder that this is the last chance to submit proposals for the European Revivals Conference at the Ateneum in January 2020. The deadline is 30 September 2019.

Featured image: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1525, oil on panel,
41cm x 27cm. O. W. Klinckowström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Editorial: Art and the More-than-human World

 Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery


23 July 2019


Artists have always been in the forefront of tackling important questions of life and the world, and one of the roles of museums and researchers is to make these issues visible both in contemporary society and in art and history.

The latest collection exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, ‘Coexistence’, explores a hot topic that stretches way beyond the realms of art –– the relationship between humans and nature, including climate change, between humans and more-than-humans, but also between humans and humans (minorities). In this edition of FNG Research we publish four articles connected to the exhibition, all studying the above mentioned themes – all very topical in academic research, too.

Sanna Karhu writes about the contradictory relationship of humans to other animal species, ranging from speciesism to the possibility of coexistence. Saara Hacklin’s subject is temporality and the Anthropocene in contemporary art, while Satu Oksanen explores the challenges of reconciling the divergent rhythms of a museum and non-human life. Kati Kivinen’s article reflects on how people feel an increasing urge to connect with the past, to unite ancient customs and rituals with today’s digitised existence, and how this has given birth to a global interest in local heritage, traditions, and alternative belief systems, also in contemporary art. Hacklin, Kivinen and Oksanen work as staff members at Kiasma and are curators of the ‘Coexistence’ exhibition.

Our research intern programme at the Finnish National Gallery has once again produced excellent results, which we publish in this issue. MA student Emma Lilja, who worked as an intern this spring, writes about artist Outi Pieski and her installation, Our Land, Our Running Colours (2015). From one artwork Lilja widens her study of the artist to include many focal issues: landscape, environment, Sámi handicraft tradition and identity, tradition and art museums, and the rights-of-nature debate.

In this issue we also have an opportunity to a reconsider a period in Finnish art history from a totally new angle, shedding fresh light on some very well-known art works in the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Collection as they are studied from an esoteric and occult point of view. Occulture is a current trend both in art-historical research and exhibitions. In June, Gill Crabbe from FNG Research attended an international conference on wide-ranging themes of esoteric influences on culture at the University of Turku and writes about two of the presentations on subjects connected to art history given by two Finnish researchers, Nina Kokkinen and Marja Lahelma. This new gaze gives fascinating insights into artworks by Ellen Thesleff, Pekka Halonen, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Hugo Simberg.

A call-for-papers is now open for an international conference that the Finnish National Gallery is organising in January 2020 at the Ateneum Art Museum. The conference with the theme ‘Art, Life and Place: Looking at European Transnational Exchange in the Long 19th Century’ concludes the international research project ‘European Revivals’ that the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum began in 2009. We are looking forward to receiving a great number of interesting proposals, so remember to submit yours by 30 September 2019 (please see

I wish you all a nice and warm summer with a photo from our archive collections depicting the summer life over a hundred years ago: the Finnish artist Hugo Simberg with the family spending a cheerful day by sea at their summer paradise Niemenlautta in Säkkijärvi, Karelia, in 1905.

Featured image: Finnish artist Hugo Simberg (far left) and his family by the seaside at Niemenlautta in Säkkijärvi, Karelia, in 1905. Hugo Simberg Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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

Editorial: Weather Report – Voicing a Call for Nordic Responsibility

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


24 May 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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

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

Telegram dated 26 March 1909 from Paul Sinebrychoff in Helsinki to Professor Osvald Sirén in Stockholm about an acquisition of a painting assumed to be by Rubens. Paul Sinebrychoff’s Letters 1900–1909. The Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Editorial: New Angles for Researchers and the Public Alike

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki


28 November 2018


This year important steps have been taken to make the FNG collection – its artworks, archive material and objects – more available to everyone. We have written about them in FNG Research, too. In the July issue we discussed collections metadata. A huge amount of work has been – and continues to be – undertaken to improve the available metadata now that we have migrated the collections into the new collections management system. The metadata work is now inextricably linked with presenting the collections online. We have also opened up the images of our copyright-free artworks online into the public domain with the CC0 license. We will have better information to offer and images available in a more convenient way when the new website is launched in 2019.

One example of this metadata work is the cataloguing into our new system of correspondence on the art acquisitions of the businessman and brewery owner Paul Sinebrychoff. Although some of this material has already been available online via the Sinebychoff Art Museum website, it will soon be accessible via the same webpage as the artworks belonging to the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Art Collection which nowadays forms part of the FNG / Sinebrychoff Art Museum collection. Our curator, who has a long-standing and extensive knowledge of the collection, is linking the letters to the Old Masters mentioned that are now in the FNG collection, together with facsimiles of the letters and transcriptions of their content.

To give another example, the media art at the FNG / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is being assigned more precise and versatile metadata as works of this kind are being recatalogued. Collections research is thus being carried out within the Finnish National Gallery every day and it is for the benefit for all the users, either in-house or in the wider world.

Many of the exhibitions of the three FNG museums and their publications shed light on the research being carried out into the collections. In this issue we reproduce two articles from the catalogue Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century accompanying the current exhibition at the Ateneum. Both the book and the exhibition scrutinise the art collection from new angles, offering a chance to get acquainted with works the public might not have been able to see before. Also in this issue of FNG Research, an interview with Dr. Marja Lahelma, author of the new book on Akseli Gallen-Kallela in the series Artists of the Ateneum, tells us how you can find a different interpretation of a very well-known and much studied artist in Finland, who is also well represented in the FNG collection.

I hope you enjoy reading our latest issue of FNG Research.

Featured image: Telegram dated 26 March 1909 from Paul Sinebrychoff in Helsinki to Professor Osvald Sirén in Stockholm about an acquisition of a painting assumed to be by Rubens. Paul Sinebrychoff’s Letters 1900–1909. The Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola