The reverse of Domenico Bossi’s miniature painting Mayor Nelander, 5.5cm x 5.5cm Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo

Editorial: The Art Experiment, Bodily Approaches and Material Support

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

 

6 July 2022

 

A work of art always needs a material support and structure to be presented to an audience. And art is always exhibited in specific circumstances that are framed by the cultural and political discussions of the day. In our summer edition of FNG Research, we have selected four different articles, which at first glance are not easy to categorise according to specific thematic guidelines. Still, taking them all together, the questions of materiality, objecthood and the art beholder’s presence in the shared space with the work of art, seem to be relevant even if the artworks derive from different time periods.

Materiality and the sense of touch are very topical interests for living artists, along with the intensification of societal topics. The Chief Curator of exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma João Laia opens the key narratives in the ARS22 exhibition entitled ‘Living Encounters’. Our aim in the show was to include a multitude of different media to highlight the variety of contemporary practices, which artists are using today. At the same time, we also wanted to bring together a range of local and global geographies and in so doing making various material cultures visible. Then alongside the artefacts there is temporary live art as well as performances to create a specific atmosphere for the show. Laia reminds us in his article that ‘(b)y countering mediated forms of isolated digital connectivity with actual bodily and dialogical exchanges, these expanded live practices create spaces of communal experimentation, places of imaginative possibility where social formations can emerge in shared manners’.

Among the many works, the exhibition includes Marina Abramović and Ulay’s seminal performative experiments exploring the embeddedness of the spiritual in the bodily, which were originally presented in 1983 at the Ateneum Art Museum as a part of the ‘ARS83’ exhibition. A few black-and-white documentation photographs in our archives witness the event, and one of those is presented in the current version of the ARS22 exhibition, creating a historical link to live art practices in the show. It is fascinating to recognise that a world famous artist, like Abramović, has a history from her early days in Helsinki.

The Ateneum in its early days also ran an art school next to the museum collection in the same premises. And so the presence of naked bodies, in the anatomy classes and croquis drawing sessions, had a history in the very same gallery spaces as today’s museum. Now this early history of bodies has been researched by Laura Nissinen via the 19th-century anatomy drawings in the Finnish National Gallery’s Collections. In her article, which is the result of her internship at the Finnish National Gallery Nissinen follows different layers of bodily presentations, representations and enactments in art teaching via copies of master sculptures produced in plaster, archive materials such as photographs and drawing manuals, collections of drawings and sketches. ‘Common to the philosophical and artistic bodies is that they are both representations that reflect the thinking, skill, and aesthetic sensibility of their creator. […] The bodily representations are mirrors of humanity, expressing the values of different cultures and eras.’

The body of a painting can be studied in different ways. In this issue, Hanne Tikkala’s peer-reviewed article analyses the colour palettes and colour schemes used by two internationally renowned Finnish artists, Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Tikkala identifies and compares the contents of their pigment palettes using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and polarised light microscopy. Shades of pigments like iron-based oranges and reds, chromium or Indian yellows and Prussian blues will appear differently via those devices and methods. Schjerfbeck and Gallen-Kallela were working at a time when new artificial pigments and colours started to replace some of the classical earth pigments. Gallen-Kallela’s travels were even possible to follow by studying more closely the pigments used and their availability at the time.

This year’s second FNG research intern Hilla Männikkö has touched in her article on the special characteristics shared by the miniatures in Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoffs’ Art Collection. These portable and intimate paintings were in their day both material and social objects, which could also be appreciated through the sense of touch. As the author highlights: ‘…especially when considering a miniature, it is important to see its tangible nature. They are not consumed solely by the eye. The connection with a miniature and its subject emerges also with touch: the size and shape are usually well fitted into the hand, which can hold it tight, lift it to be kissed or stroke its smooth surface gently.’ In our times, the closest we can get to these minute paintings is by viewing them in a display case or by exploring the digitised images, which also give access to the reverse side of the paintings that might contain personal notes, or even memorabilia.

Along with an artwork’s material existence is always the presentation of it, the framing and displaying, which are linked to the episteme of the time – the context, discourses and cultural climate, which create the surroundings for works of art. These aspects are consciously highlighted in gallery texts, academic papers and in a way how different artists and objects are curated together.

This issue’s curatorial discussion between Gill Crabbe and curator Claudia de Brün focuses on the ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’ exhibition, which touches on the flora and garden of art treasures at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. It’s time to enjoy the natural beauty around us and if you wish to intensify your floral experiences and deepen the understanding of the subject matter, you are welcome to admire the flower paintings inside the museum surrounded by its garden of delights.

Featured image: The reverse of Domenico Bossi’s portrait miniature Mayor Nelander, 5.5cm x 5.5cm. Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download FNG Research No. 2/2022 as a PDF

Installation view of Jenna Sutela’s I Magma, 2019, comprising head-shaped lava lamps and mobile app, on display in ‘ARS22 Living Encounters’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

ARS22 – Living Encounters

João Laia, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Leevi Haapala, João Laia, Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), ARS22: Eläviä kohtaamisia – Living Encounters. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 173/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma & Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2022.

We live in a time of generalised crisis. Developments in ecology, economics, health, labour, migration, politics, technology, and beyond have triggered an ‘emergency convergence’ through which these fields manifest as part of a cumulative, integrated movement. Yet despite this confluence, translated in the mutual implication and global reach of this manifold crisis, such coalition does not unify the world and its agents under identical conditions. Defined by the feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti as a technologically mediated interlinking with the ‘natural-culture continuum of our terrestrial milieu’, the webbed composition of life on Earth also includes differences regarding human geographical location and/or ‘access to social and legal entitlements, technologies, safety, prosperity, and good health services’. In fact, accrued historically through processes of domination and exclusion, inequality has in recent times expanded around the world, although – and depending on their contextual inscription – each actor perceives the impacts of these intensifying tensions differently. In Braidotti’s words, ‘(t)he sexualised others (non-binary, women, LBGTQ+); the racialised others (non-Europeans, indigenous); and the naturalised others (animals, plants, the Earth)’ have permanently throughout history been closer to any given crisis.[1]

The urgent features of the current situation have given rise to a generalised sense of anxiety and menace. For Braidotti, ‘(e)xhaustion and fatigue – a recurrent sense of hopelessness and impossibility – have become prominent features of the contemporary psychic landscapes’, functioning as ‘witnesses to the daily and nightly struggles to come to terms with what our world has become and the complexities of our historical context’. The accumulation and overlapping of fatigue, fear, and despair generates feelings of impotence, ‘a social and psychological dimming of a sense of possibility, which triggers a systemic fragmentation and a shattering of our relational capacity’.[2] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi also identifies a current inability emotionally and rationally to process current events, whose speed is intensifying, leading to nervous overstimulation. Berardi names this state of things ‘chaos’, articulating it as both ‘the measure of the complexity of the world in relation to the capacities of intellectual reduction’ and ‘the excessive density of the infosphere in relation to the psychosphere’.[3] Such argument adds the imprint of technology to the context described by Braidotti, underlining how the digitally led exponential increase of information flows has contributed to the exhaustion of the contemporary psychic landscape and an erosion of collective affinities.

[1] Rosi Braidotti. ‘“We” Are in This Together, But We Are Not One and the Same’, Bioethical Inquiry 17 (2020), 465–69.

[2] Braidotti, ‘“We’ Are in This Together…’, 465–69.

[3] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility. London and New York: Verso, 2017, 2.

Featured image: Installation view of Jenna Sutela’s I Magma, 2019, comprising head-shaped lava lamps and mobile app, on display in ‘ARS22 Living Encounters’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Read more — Download ‘ARS22 – Living Encounters’, by João Laia, as a PDF

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’ARS22 Living Encounters’, until 16 October 2022, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Leevi Haapala, João Laia, Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), ARS22: Eläviä kohtaamisia – Living Encounters. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 173/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma & Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2022, available from the Finnish National Gallery’s webshop, https://museoshop.fi/en/product/ars22-elavia-kohtaamisia-living-encounters/

Jean-Michel Picart, Still life of Flowers, 1600–82, oil on canvas, 35cm x 48.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

The Flowering of Science and Art

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Flower painting in the western canon of art became an independent genre in the 17th century. As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum displays its exhibition ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’, Gill Crabbe asks curator Claudia de Brün about the research involved in developing themes for the show

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s ability to tend its garden of art treasures and cultivate innovative exhibition material continues with its wide-ranging show on the theme of the Northern garden, flower painting and its relation to science, ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’. From its own prize possessions of 17th-century flower paintings by artists such as the Dutch master Johannes Borman, court painter to Louis XIV Jean-Michel Picart, and the workshop of the supreme Dutch master Jan Brueghel I, the museum has negotiated loans of significant works in the genre from Northern European museums to complement them. The show’s theme opens out to include floral elements in religious art, the importance of botanical illustration, the meeting of art and science in the vision of the iconic Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, and how floral themes appeared not only via the art that Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff collected but also in the decorative and functional pieces that adorned their everyday life.

There is also the contextual theme of paradise – the word’s original meaning of a walled area or garden being rooted in ancient Iranian language – which takes in the socio-political developments of colonial nations during the 17th and 18th centuries. Exotic plants and species were brought back from voyages of discovery for wealthy elites to create ornamental gardens, with walled enclosures, trees and water fountains providing a haven from the wild nature beyond. In the exhibition, the paintings of such earthly delights as a pineapple plant that bloomed in 1729 at the gardens of royal palace of Ulriksdal near Stockholm, by the Swedish artist David von Cöln (1689–1763), the anthological florilegia of the 16th and 17th centuries, and Hieronymus Francken II’s Connoisseurs at a Gallery, all serve as examples to underline the specific value of plants as collectors’ items in this period.

Featured image: Jean-Michel Picart, Still life of Flowers, 1600–82, oil on canvas, 35cm x 48.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download ‘The Flowering of Science and Art’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

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Anders Ekman, Study of Eyes, before 1855 Lilli Törnudd Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

The Ateneum to the Backbone – 19th-Century Anatomy Drawings in the Finnish National Gallery Collections

Laura Nissinen, Doctor of Arts, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published following the author’s three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery

Introduction

The skull

A group of nine young women wearing skirts and aprons are sitting in an empty interior. Beside them is a drawing on an easel, depicting a female form. Several electric lamps with shades made from bent cardboard are hanging from the ceiling. Most of the women have their heads turned away from the camera, and instead are looking at the person sitting in the middle of the group, who holds a human skull in her lap. She holds the skull softly, almost tenderly, in her hands, looking down at it intensively. Three of the women are holding large palettes and long-handled paintbrushes. No-one is smiling.

The scene described is the subject of a photograph taken in the Ateneum Art Museum in 1894. A short text, handwritten in Swedish, can be seen at the bottom of the backing card framing the photo: ‘In the atelier, spring 1894’[1] (Fig. 1). The space shown in the picture is the hall located on the third floor of the Ateneum, built in 1887. At the time the photo was taken, the hall was the painting studio of the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School. The women in the photograph are students and the barefoot person sitting a little apart from the group is the model, her face familiar from the unfinished drawing on the easel. The group’s teacher, Elin Danielson, is squatting in front of the group, her dark dress carefully folded around her feet. She is looking closely at the person holding the skull, who is her cousin Onni Bäckström. The serious mood and the position of the skull create a strange atmosphere. Still, the reason for presenting the skull in the picture is the same as showing us the painting palettes and brushes. These women want us to know that they are artists.

The skull, or in other words the head of someone who once loved, dreamed, and sang, may look eerie to us today, but for an art student in the 19th century it would have been a common subject. In fact, the history of the skulls, skeletons, and other bone fragments placed in the service of artists’ tuition is as long as the narrative of the art academies, dating back to the 16th century.[2] Their role was to demonstrate what we humans are made of, the correct bodily measurements, and how the parts functioned together when people moved. These human remains worked as lifeless models doomed patiently to serve art seemingly for an eternity.

The body of research

At the beginning of my internship my research interest was the relation between art and science in the 19th century, but the topic was too extensive and needed a new focus that would suit the Finnish National Gallery’s Art Collection and Archival Collections.[3] When my tutors, senior researcher Hanna-Leena Paloposki and curator Anne-Maria Pennonen, suggested the theme of anatomy, I knew it was just the idea I had been looking for. This solution helped to define the research focus and to identify the relevant material in the National Gallery’s large collections. In addition to skeletons, I searched for other anatomical subjects, such as studies of muscles and other drawings of human bodies, body parts and of objects depicting human bodies. To limit the amount of the material I chose to focus on works representing inanimate models and objects, leaving aside works made using live models. The final selected material includes anatomical studies of the human body, drawings of bodily representations copied from drawing books or drawing manuals or similar examples, and drawings copied from plaster casts (Fig. 2). As there has been no previous research on the topic of anatomy concerning the collections of the Finnish National Gallery, the first research questions were all about the visual material: what kind of imagery relating to the theme of human anatomy exists in the Art Collection and Archive Collections of the National Gallery, by whom and from what period? The subsequent questions I have attempted to answer are more extensive: how did the emphasis on the human form manifest itself in the artist’s education in the 19th century and what kind of knowledge of the human body was considered important to the artists of the time?

This article is developed taking into consideration a relatively large amount of imagery. In the Art Collection and Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, studies of skeletons and muscles can be found by Robert Wilhelm Ekman (1808–73), Carl Eneas Sjöstrand (1828–1906), Anders Ekman (1833–55), Maria Wiik (1853–1928), Gunnar Berndtson (1854–95), Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), and Magnus Enckell (1870–1925). I have also found works copied from drawing manuals by Anders Ekman, Oscar Kleineh (1846–1919), Maria Wiik, Albert Edelfelt, Torsten Wasastjerna (1863–1924) and Pekka Halonen (1865–1933). Drawings copied from plaster casts also exist by Arvid Liljelund (1844–99), Oscar Kleineh, Gunnar Berndtson, and Torsten Wasastjerna. In addition, there are some individual drawings on the topic by Ferdinand von Wright (1822–1906), Johannes Takanen (1849–85), Alfred William Finch (1854–1930), and Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946).

The list of the artists or works in this article is not exhaustive due to the time frame of my internship. Quite probably, there is further material relating to the theme of anatomy in the Finnish National Gallery’s vast collections. This article doesn’t include finished works of art in the traditional sense. The majority of the works presented are student works, made during the first years of artistic training. The date of the works is not certain in all cases and only a small part of the imagery has been exhibited or published before. Still, most of the visual material displayed in this research article has been digitised and catalogued in the Finnish National Gallery’s collection management system.

[1] The original text in Swedish: ‘På atelieren våren 1894’.

[2] Susanna Pettersson. Suomen Taideyhdistyksestä Ateneumiin. Fredrik Cygnaeus, Carl Gustaf Estlander ja taidekokoelman roolit. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden seura, Valtion taidemuseo, 2008, 158; Altti Kuusamo. ‘Akatemian idea ja taiteiden järjestelmä’, in Riikka Stewen (ed.), Silmän oppivuodet. Ajatuksia taiteesta ja taiteen opettamisesta. Helsinki: Kuvataideakatemia 1998, 23–24.

[3] The Finnish National Gallery is Finland’s national cultural institution, which comprises the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. It maintains the Finnish National Gallery Collection, which includes artworks, archival materials, and artefacts. The Ateneum Art Museum’s Art Collection presents the development of Finnish art from the 18th century to the 20th century.

Featured image: Anders Ekman, Study of eyes, before 1855
Lilli Törnudd Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Read more — Download ‘The Ateneum to the Backbone – 19th-Century Anatomy Drawings of the Finnish National Gallery Collections’, by Laura Nissinen, as a PDF

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Peter Adolf Hall (1739–93), Portrait of a Young Man, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 3.7cm x 2.9cm Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo

Mementos on Display: Portrait Miniatures in the Sinebrychoffs’ Art Collection

Hilla Männikkö, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published following the author’s three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery

Introduction

There are very few people who haven’t felt moved when looking at a picture of their loved one. A face, especially when belonging to someone dear, has the power to evoke a multitude of feelings: love, anger, possessiveness or heartache, to name a few. As we live in the contemporary world, this type of picture is usually a photograph. In my primary school we used to wait for the days when a photographer came to take the annual school photographs. We sat for the group picture, pictures with our friends and our portrait pictures with hair brushed and a smile elicited by the funny word. After a few weeks, the photos arrived and it was time to call on our courage and ask for a little sticker photo from our secret (or not-so-secret) crush. If we were lucky enough to obtain one, it was cherished. I stuck mine between the back of my phone and the battery to keep it always with me, but hidden from meaningful glances.

This ritual from my childhood nearly 20 years ago reminds me of portrait miniatures and their use as personal mementos across several centuries. Before the invention of photographs these items held a great sentimental value and were in active use in strengthening emotional bonds between lovers and family members. During my internship at the Finnish National Gallery I have acquainted myself with these small gems and their character.

I chose to study Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection of miniatures that is housed at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum as a part of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s art collection. Today the National Gallery’s entire collection of miniatures comprises about 400 items, of which around 340 belong to the original collection by Paul and Fanny. Their original miniature collection was formed over roughly two decades – from the end of the 1880s to c. 1913 – and was then donated to the Finnish state in 1921.[1] Since the original donation the collection in the National Gallery has been increased by several further donations and purchases.

The collection of miniatures has been previously researched, but the main focus has been on basic and conservatory research on how the collection was formed and what it actually includes in terms of artists and materials.[2] Even though this work is still in progress, in this article my aim is not to make a thorough report on the collection or its developments, but rather to study it from several thematic viewpoints. First of all, I will approach a portrait miniature as an object that has a certain character. I will examine it as a material and social object and place it in the context of the Sinebrychoffs’ collecting interests. Here, I will reflect on the question of what kinds of qualities make the portrait miniature an appealing object for both the original owner and the collector. How do their experiences differ and what do they have in common?

I have approached these questions by sifting through some parts of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections, studying research literature on the material and social aspects of portrait miniatures and taking a closer look at Paul Sinebrychoff’s letters from equivalent viewpoints.[3] I have also had the opportunity to examine Paul’s own original catalogue of their miniatures, the catalogue of the collection made after Fanny’s donation, as well as auction catalogues from Bukowski’s auction house in Sweden. There is still a variety of archive material on the Sinebrychoff collection that would require further research in the future which could also shed light on the issues concerned in this article.

The Sinebrychoffs’ collection of miniatures contains mainly portrait miniatures but also some examples of other genres, such as mythological scenes. In my research I have concentrated on the original part of the collection collected by Paul and Fanny. From the vast amount of objects, I have chosen portrait miniatures that depict private individuals and were commissioned as personal keepsakes as the ones to be presented in this article. Thus in the later sections, when discussing miniatures in general, I will not consider portraits of sovereigns or other socialites, which play a considerable role in the history of miniatures but whose function differs significantly from that of their more private counterparts. Finally, I have highlighted some items from the collection, which best express the social or material aspects of miniatures that are the focus of this article.

[1] This timing of active collecting is based on information gathered from Paul’s letters and submitted to the author as a verbal notice by curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, who has studied the Sinebrychoffs’ collecting activities in depth. On the donation, see Ira Westergård. ‘A gift to the nation: Fanny Sinebrychoff and the donation of the Sinebrychoff art collection’, in Salla Heino, Kirsi Eskelinen (eds.), A Bulevardi Home – Art Collectors Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2021, (212–31) 221.

[2] See e.g. Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi & Synnöve Malmström (eds.). Miniatyyrit. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo, 2002.

[3] I have used the letters from the years 1895 to 1909, about 477 items in total, which can be found translated into Finnish and transcribed on the web-page Paul Sinebrychoffin kirjearkisto [Paul Sinebrychoff’s Letter Archive], http://kirjearkisto.siff.fi/default.aspx (accessed 15 June 2022).

Featured image: Peter Adolf Hall (1739–93), Portrait of a Young Man,
watercolour and gouache on ivory, 3.7cm x 2.9cm
Sinebrychoff Collection, Finnish National Gallery /
Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Simo Karisalo
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download ‘Mementos on Display: Portrait Miniatures in the Sinebrychoffs’ Art Collection’, by Hilla Männikkö, as a PDF

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The Ateneum Research Library. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Researching the Finnish National Gallery’s Collections

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

 

11 March 2022

 

The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, one of the Finnish National Gallery’s three museums, closed its doors for more than a year in order to carry out renovation work to the building. During this period the museum staff were busy focusing on curating an extensive exhibition of international contemporary art ‘ARS22 – Living encounters’, which opens in April.

This exceptional period offered Kiasma a rare opportunity to concentrate on its collections. One result is the publication of a richly illustrated book, The Many Forms of Contemporary Art, which celebrates 30 years of collecting contemporary art. The current issue of FNG Research magazine publishes online two articles from the book, as well as an interview with the curators responsible for the book project. From a research point of view there was a specific chance for the curators to follow their own research interests and to avoid using the standard ways of looking at the collection, instead roaming freely through it.

Since 2017 the Finnish National Gallery has run a research intern programme to foster collaboration between the museum professionals and academic studies in art history. Interns have been recruited to work for three months on a selected part of our collections, honing their skills in researching chosen topics by studying material collection objects, such as specific artists’ archives. In this way we wish to support future museum professionals’ practical enthusiasm for actual physical objects in the collections in their many formats. This programme has proved to be successful both for graduate-level students and the museum’s professionals practising research.

Our research intern for the autumn period in 2021, Ida Pakarinen, chose to look at the collections from the viewpoint of current climate change. Through the artists’ works she chose to examine, her article, ‘Recycled Utopia – Where Art and Everyday Life Coalesce’, touches upon important questions concerning a museum’s collections management in the form of contextualising collections objects with metadata. Focusing on recycled materials and their status in artworks and artists’ working processes, she came to discuss certain key words or concepts, such as ‘trash’, ‘waste’ or ‘junk’, as part of the contextualisation of collection objects. Her approach makes visible how, for example, vocabularies used in cataloguing museum collections are entangled with transforming meanings and values.

An important international research project that FNG Research is currently following is entitled ‘Gothic Modern: from Medieval and Northern Renaissance to Dark, Emotive, Uncanny Modern Art’. The project schedule stretches from 2018 to 2025 and explores the pivotal importance of Gothic art for the artistic modernisms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this issue, we follow the international partners group meeting and encounter modern Gothic throwbacks in Finnish cultural history.

Featured image: The Ateneum Research Library
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download FNG Research No. 1/2022 as a PDF

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Nina Roos, Lost in Yellow, 2000, oil on polycarbonate sheet, metal stand, 90cm x 175cm x 241cm (each sheet), installed in the lobby at Kiasma Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Celebrating Three Decades of Collecting Contemporary Art

 Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

When a national collection marks a milestone in its history, it offers a chance to get a glimpse of the changes that have contributed to its evolution. Gill Crabbe asks three curators from the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery about the process of preparing a new book that opens the doors to the past 30 years of the museum’s acquisitions

In our digital age when e-books and online webzines are the order of the day, the production of a book is a special project. It is an In Real Life event, a hand-held object that has a physical life and span, something not only to be read, but for the reader or readers perhaps to adorn with personalised marginalia, a concretised narrative that can be physically place-marked with folded page corners, easily navigated (no endless screen scrolling) and delved into anywhere anytime without plugging-in. The book, far from being an anachronism, is in fact gaining in value as the exponential expansion of electronic media progresses. And books, especially when commissioned to commemorate or celebrate, can be a multiple monument, honouring achievements over time. This is the case with a beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book, The Many Forms of Contemporary Art, which celebrates 30 years of collecting contemporary art. It is the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma’s monument to its own art collection, in book form.

I think a physical book is still important and it’s a topic we discussed a lot ourselves,’ says Kati Kivinen, Chief Curator of Collections at Kiasma, one of three of the museum’s curators who were driving the project. ‘Personally, I prefer to roam through a book when accessing a theme or topic, rather than looking at hundreds of images of artworks online, even more so after two years of watching everything on screen during the pandemic. Also the book is closer to the works themselves, being concrete – a book lying between an image on screen and the actual artworks.’

In addition to its celebratory aspect, the decision to publish the book was also practical – Kiasma has been undergoing renovations since early 2021 and with its exhibition spaces out of action, and many projects off the agenda, the museum’s curators found themselves time-richer, and in Kivinen’s words ‘with an opportunity of a book project on 30 years of collecting. We have never done a comprehensive overview of the collection like this before and since our publications have always been linked to the exhibitions that we present, this offered a rare chance to concentrate on the collection without this kind of agenda.’

Featured image: Nina Roos, Lost in Yellow, 2000, oil on polycarbonate sheet, metal stand, 90cm x 175cm x 241cm (each sheet), installed in the lobby at Kiasma
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Jouni S. Laiti, Pain of the Earth, 2018–19, birch burl, iron nail, antler, 5.7cm x 11cm x 12cm Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Milk, Monosodium Glutamate, Chewing Gum and Dust – Lasting and Evanescent Material in Kiasma’s Collections

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

Also published in Saara Hacklin, –Kati Kivinen and Satu Oksanen (eds.), The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. The Kiasma Collection Book. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 175/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2022. Transl. Maija Timonen

Materials used in contemporary art are diverse, and often central to the meanings of the works. On the one hand the material of an artwork can be something tangible, on the other, a piece can take an immaterial form. The idea of a search for the new, questioning and reacting to the surrounding world, is inscribed into contemporary art. Challenging existing methods and trying out new materials in art demands of the museum a continual change in modes of operation. Museums must find new means of collecting, preserving and exhibiting art. New materials also propose new ways of experiencing art for the spectator.

The art collection of a museum is also a collection of materials. An enormous mass of matter has been accumulated in store rooms, an assembly of ageing bodies of artworks. Transience and the fragility of materials is nothing new in art, but the use of materials that are vulnerable to the ravages of time has increased in contemporary art. At different points in time attitudes towards materiality and its meanings have shifted. In Finland a significant change in the use of artistic materials occurred in the 1960s, when the use of new and alternative materials became common. The traditional materials of sculptures, such as wood, stone and bronze had to make way for polyurethane, perspex and fibreglass. Oil-based paints were traded in for acrylic.[1] . Digitality has been visible in art particularly since the end of the last millennium. In the 2000s ideas around new materialism shifted attention to the agency of materials.

[1] Kirsti Harva. ‘Teosten toinen elämä. Vaikuttavuus konservaattorin näkökulmasta’, in Päivi Rajakari (ed.), Mitä meillä oli ennen Kiasmaa? Kokoelmatoiminnan vaikuttavuus. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo / KEHYS, 2008, 272.

Featured image: Jouni S. Laiti, Pain of the Earth, 2018–19, birch burl, iron nail, antler, 5.7cm x 11cm x 12cm, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Johanna Lecklin, Story Café, 2004–10, videotape, video projection, neon sign and live art, photographed at the ‘It’s a Set-up’ collection exhibition at Kiasma, 2010. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Dialogues, Complaints, Coffee, and Dough. When the Viewer Participates

Kaija Kaitavuori, PhD, art historian and researcher on contemporary art

Also published in Saara Hacklin, Kati Kivinen and Satu Oksanen (eds.), The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. The Kiasma Collection Book. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 175 / 2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2022

In the late 1990s, art exhibitions began to include works that required active participation from the viewer. It was no longer enough just to look at the works: they invited or even demanded that the visitor do something. This feature has changed the traditional exhibition experience. It has also posed new challenges for museum collection and exhibition practices.

The viewer engages in dialogue

In 1996, the Museum of Contemporary Art held an exhibition that deliberately opened up space for the visitor’s contribution. Curated by the Chief Curator Maaretta Jaukkuri, the exhibition was called ‘Dialogues’.[1] The artists presented the opening lines and then handed over to the viewers, who added their own responses to the discussion. Together, these tentative, suggestive and experimental contributions formed the actual work of art.

One of the works in the exhibition was a sculpture by Tiina Ketara: a human-sized figure, resembling the artist, lying on the floor. As the viewer approached, they heard a gentle plea: ‘Help me. Hey, you there, come closer!’ The work asked the viewer to help her sit up and eventually stand. When the viewer complied, the doll chatted some more, said that things were not going well, and finally sang a song. Confronted with the work, the viewer had to make decisions about his or her own attitude and actions. Should I accept the invitation, step up to the work, touch it? In making the decision to participate, the viewer entered the territory of the work, became part of it and at the same time was exposed to the gaze of others in the space. The visitor was no longer a spectator among others, but part of the work: a participant. The very title of the work, You and I (1996), addresses the viewer. Here we are: I, the work, lying here, and you, next to me, watching, listening, perhaps touching. Or maybe ‘I’ is the spectator, and ‘you’ the work, in front of me, talking to me, making a request. Or is ‘you’ the other spectator, with whom we negotiate, perhaps without words, the modus operandi. Will you go, shall I join you, do we dare to approach?

[1] The foreword of the exhibition catalogue quotes David Bohm, who defines dialogue in a broad way as ‘a stream of meaning flowing among and through us, and between us’. Maaretta Jaukkuri (ed.). Dialogues. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 36/1996. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996, 6–7.

Featured image: Johanna Lecklin, Story Café, 2004–10, videotape, video projection, neon sign and live art, photographed at the ‘It’s a Set-up’ collection exhibition at Kiasma, 2010.
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Screenshot from Eino Ruutsalo’s film Kinetic Pictures, 1962 Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

‘I Wish to Be a Field of Constant Transformation’ – Eino Ruutsalo’s Experimental Approaches in the 1960s

Marko Home, PhD, independent researcher

At the beginning of February 1968, Eino Ruutsalo (1921–2001) was having an exhibition ’Valo ja liike’ (Light and Movement), at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki. Sam Vanni (1908–1992), who had been a major innovator in Finnish painting in the 1950s, was also due to take part in this exhibition. However, Vanni was outraged to see that his paintings were being hung alongside Ruutsalo’s electrically-operated kinetic works. As a result, Vanni decided to withdraw his work from the exhibition, and this happened at such a late stage that the exhibition catalogue had already been printed, and his contribution could no longer be removed from it.[1] This episode is one example of many in which Ruutsalo challenged the conventions of the Finnish art scene in the 1960s.

In September 2021, a week before the centenary of Ruutsalo’s birth, I defended my dissertation in art history at the University of Helsinki. The aim of my research was to examine the role of this visual artist and filmmaker Ruutsalo in the new forms of art emerging in Finland during the 1960s.[2] The main source material for my research was Ruutsalo’s previously unexplored private archive, which includes the manuscript of his unpublished memoir, correspondence, notes, newspaper clippings, photographs and exhibition catalogues.[3] Other sources I consulted consisted of material in several archival institutions, interviews, exhibition critiques and newspaper articles, and of course Ruutsalo’s works.

Based on my research, I also published a non-fiction book about Eino Ruutsalo for the general public[4], as well as co-curated with Katja Ikäläinen an exhibition on Eino Ruutsalo’s experimental approaches in the 1960s for the Ateneum Art Museum’s Focus Gallery[5]. I also curated a retrospective of Eino Ruutsalo’s films for the National Audiovisual Institute’s cinema Kino Regina[6]. The aforementioned projects have reminded the audience in Finland that Eino Ruutsalo is one of the key names in the history of the Finnish avant-garde. Since my doctoral dissertation is written in Finnish, the aim of this article is to give foreign readers a brief summary of Ruutsalo’s diverse artistic activities.

[1] Eino Ruutsalo. ‘Maalarin rytmiä etsimässä’ (‘In Search of the Painter’s Rhythm’), unpublished memoir, 2000, 77. The Eino Ruutsalo Archive (ERA). Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (AC, FNG); Valo ja liike / Ljus och rörelse (Light and Movement), Amos Andersonin taidemuseo (Amos Anderson Art Museum), 7–14 February 1968, exhibition catalogue.

[2] Marko Home. ‘Pysähtymisessä vaanii kuolema’ – Eino Ruutsalon kokeellinen 1960-luku (‘Death lurks in stagnation’ – Eino Ruutsalo’s Experimental 1960s). Helsinki: University of Helsinki, 2021,  https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/333635 (accessed 5 January 2022).

[4] Marko Home. Eino Ruutsalo – Kineettisten kuvien maalari (‘Eino Ruutsalo – Painter of Kinetic Pictures’). Helsinki: Parvs, 2021, https://parvs.fi/en/books/eino-ruutsalo/?lang_switched=1 (accessed 5 January 2022).

[5] ‘Focus Gallery: Eino Ruutsalo’s Experimental 1960s’, Ateneum Art Museum, 14 September 2021 – 27 March 2022, https://ateneum.fi/en/exhibitions/fokus-gallery-eino-ruutsalos-experimental-1960s/ (accessed 5 January 2022).

[6] Kino Regina: ‘Eino Ruutsalo 100 vuotta’, 2021–2022, https://kinoregina.fi/teemat/eino-ruutsalo-100-vuotta/ (accessed 5 January 2022).

Featured image: Screenshot from Eino Ruutsalo’s film Kinetic Pictures, 1962
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

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