Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery archive prints.

Editorial: Going Solo

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki


September 22, 2016


This autumn the Finnish National Gallery celebrates internationally acknowledged artists such as Mona Hatoum and Amedeo Modigliani. Hatoum has a strong voice in the contemporary art scene. Her political works pinpoint the issues that we all should be aware of. Modigliani, in his turn, is known for his unique paintings and sculptures but also because of his dramatic life story: drugs and poverty combined with the deep passion to create.

Museums are platforms for exhibitions that touch our hearts and souls. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century, art museums throughout Europe mainly presented exhibitions of collections according to the schools, such as the Dutch and Flemish, or Renaissance art, rather than focusing on individual artists. Yet the key figures of art history were sculpted, carved, or their names inscribed on museum walls and facades all over Europe, from London to Paris and Helsinki. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were among the most frequently used names in this imaginary hall of fame. It’s somewhat striking that while the value and interest of exceptional artists’ careers were understood, retrospective exhibitions as we understand them today, became increasingly popular only after the mid-19th century.

The interest in exploring the careers of individual artists grew hand in hand with the development of art-historical research. Encyclopaedic art-historical presentations written by Franz Theodor Kugler, Karl Schnaase or Wilhelm Lübke, for example, provided a framework for the discourse in the 19th century. Within the same time frame the first artist monographs were published. They opened up possibilities for the better understanding of art history, and inspired museums to start focusing on exhibitions that explored one artist only. Specific sites and museums dedicated to single artists were opened: among the first were the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1848) Antonio Canova’s Gipsoteca in Possagno, Italy (1853) and the Ingres’ Room (1851/54), now part of the Musée Ingres in Montauban, France.

In Finland the first retrospective exhibition was organised to honour the memory of Werner Holmberg (1830–60) whose blossoming career as a landscape painter was cut short by his untimely death. The exhibition, mounted by the Finnish Art Society, was opened in September 1861 at the grand gallery of the Societetshuset in Helsinki, a venue where the upper class organised large-scale events. This time, there were no real possibilities for any research. That came later in 1890, when Finnish art historian Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä published the first proper monograph about Werner Holmberg, in connection with the artist’s exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

The link between research and exhibitions is vital. It has always been, and today even more so. This is perhaps something that we should highlight even more: that the best exhibitions are always based on scholarly and ambitious research. Every phenomenon, every artist and even every work has a story to tell. And these stories can lead to life-changing thoughts and experiences.

Featured image: Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery Archive.

Boundary Crossings: The Political Postminimalism of Mona Hatoum

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

First published in Christine Van Assche & Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 24 June–28 September 2015, Tate Modern, London, 4 May─21 August 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 7 October 2016–26 February 2017. London: Tate Publishing, 2016, pp. 150–168. Transl. Silja Kudell

Investment in the look is not as privileged in women as in men. More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters … In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.

Luce Irigaray[1]


Early minimalist art challenged the privileging of the gaze by foregrounding art’s relation to its surrounding space and the viewer’s corporeal experience.[2] Luce Irigaray’s critique of the privileged gaze is similarly subverted on many levels by Mona Hatoum. We can feel and hear her works – well-nigh even taste and smell them – and one of them literally even touches us. They are insistently corporeal, experienced viscerally within our guts. The materials she uses – cold steel, human detritus, dead skin, strands of hair, nail clippings, plastic, glass, soap and the like – play a highly potent role in the intricate signification process in which she embroils the viewer/experiencer.

The first time I saw her work was at the Centre Pompidou in the summer of 1994.[3] Earlier that spring, I had just seen a Robert Morris retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. Even though these two powerfully spatial artists represent different generations and genders, seeing their work in such close succession tempted me to draw parallels between them, particularly as both draw inspiration from the same traditions, minimalism and performance art. Many of Morris’s works in the exhibition marked an attempt to subvert the Western mind-body dichotomy, as Rosalind Krauss, the curator, stated in her seminal essay for the exhibition catalogue.[4] Yet, despite its powerful spatiality, its message was relayed primarily on an intellectual level, subordinate to the authority of the subject’s gaze. Many of Morris’s works occupied the gallery space as aesthetic artefacts, impermeable to our access.

A preoccupation with the Western mind-body dichotomy similarly pervades the oeuvre of Mona Hatoum.[5] Yet, her exhibition had a very different effect on me than Morris’s. With her work, my experience as a viewer was not just intellectual, but also physical and emotional. I identified with it viscerally, which compelled me to question how I relate to everything, from my own identity to world politics. How did she achieve such a powerful destabilising effect, and why did she move me in such a fundamentally different way than Morris, whose minimalistic art largely elicited feelings of aesthetic and intellectual gratification? Was it the political subtext that slowly unfolded through a complex web of associations, or was it that I am a woman and closer in age to Hatoum than I am to Morris? Many such questions filled my mind back then. Now, 20 years later, this essay offers a chance to revisit some of them – and perhaps to find answers.

[1] Quoted in Marie-Françoise Hans and Gilles Lapouge (eds.), Les femmes, la pornographie et l’érotisme, Paris, 1978, p. 50. Luce Irigaray is a French linguist, cultural theoretician, psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings address the problem of the relation between man and woman vis-à-vis gender difference.
[2] Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995.
[3] See Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June–August 1994. One of the featured pieces, Light Sentence, 1992, was later shown at the Ateneum in Helsinki in ARS 95, an exhibition organised in 1995 by the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art.
[4] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in series’, in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, 1994.
[5] See ‘Michael Archer in Conversation with Mona Hatoum’, in Mona Hatoum, London, 1997, p. 8.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Amedeo Modigliani and the Portrait of Léopold Survage

Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Published in English exclusively in FNG Research. Transl. Wif Stenger

In 1918 Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) painted a portrait of his fellow artist Léopold Survage (1879–1968), who was a good friend – indeed, one of Modigliani’s biographers describes Survage as one of his true artist friends after 1913, the other being Chaïm Soutine.[1]

Their friendship likely aided the success of the portrait. Modigliani, after all, was primarily interested in the model’s personality, more so than his or her external features. As a result, when he painted strangers he had to spend quite a long time getting to know them. Most often, the actual painting itself proceeded quickly.

The portrait of Survage is apparently the only oil painting by Modigliani in Finnish ownership. It shows traits that are characteristic of Modigliani’s oeuvre. The elegant use of lines from old Italian art is combined with a more painterly approach to colour in the background and clothing. The face, which is more firmly formed, stands out from the stippled background, creating an impression of a reserved but sensitive man.

In this portrait Modigliani, in his typical manner, has stretched the subject’s face and neck, while dropping the shoulder line. The model is basically recognisable when one compares it to photographs of Survage that were taken later. The work still reflects the artist’s interest in taking influences from art that were considered non-European and primitive. However the shaping of the face is not as angular as those painted in Modigliani’s portraits two or three years earlier.

On the other hand the work does not yet show the kind of mannerism sometimes brought into later paintings with the use of stylised curved lines and a smoothing of the background. Of the works in the ‘Amedeo Modigliani’ retrospective exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2016–17), the closest to that of Survage is probably the portrait of Gaston Modot (Centre Pompidou, Paris), which was painted in the same year, 1918.

[1] William Fifield, Modigliani. The Biography. New York: Morrow, 1976, 180.

Featured image: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

Return to Nature

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

A key feature of the European revivalist art of the late 19th century were the artists’ communities that grew up in areas of natural beauty across Europe. Gill Crabbe meets two of the organisers of the 2015 European Revivals conference, which took place in Krakow and Zakopane in the Tatra mountains

When one thinks of the European revivalist culture that emerged in the later decades of the 19th century, one thinks of Paris as having been the central hub of the artistic ideas that spread across Europe and that included – especially in northern Europe – an urge to return to local territories and art practices. There were also the philosophical ideas generated by British artist thinkers such as John Ruskin, and the birth of the Arts and Crafts movement, epitomised in the decorative arts of William Morris. However, fewer scholars internationally today have been aware of its manifestations in central Europe, and one significant result of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals Research Project has been a conference that took place in Krakow and Zakopane in Poland, which has now placed the country’s Tatra mountain region firmly on the European revivalist map.

The FNG’s European Revivals Project, which has been active since 2009, aims to bring together scholars, art histories and narratives from different countries and explore their common cultural heritage concerning this key period in Europe’s cultural history. The four international conferences that have so far taken place have provided fertile ground for sharing ideas, networking and exploring common experiences.

The Tatra Museum conference in Krakow in 2015, which included a day visiting the Tatra mountain village of Zakopane, took as its theme the return to nature that can be seen as a feature of European revivalist cultures, reflected in the development of artists’ colonies in rural areas that promoted a simple healthy lifestyle. Their art not only foregrounded en plein air landscape painting but also manifested in fresh creativity in the decorative arts and architecture and indeed across all artistic disciplines. At the conference, curators and scholars from as far afield as Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and of course Poland, explored themes ranging from nature and myth, and colour and national artistic identity, to wilderness and violence, and the significance of the rustic hut.

Edyta Barucka, an independent scholar based in Warsaw, explains how the Krakow conference came about. ‘It goes back to the first of these conferences, held at the Ateneum Art Museum in 2009, which was about the myths and visions of history and included study visits to the Finnish artists’ houses – Gallen-Kallela’s house in Tarvaspää and houses in the Tuusula district near Helsinki,’ she says. ‘It was a marvellous experience just to touch these houses, to see them as they were, to learn their respective histories. And it added an important dimension to our research – sharing direct experiences and insights with colleagues. I remember the lineoleum in one of the rooms and wondering if it was from Scotland. It was the first time I thought it would be good to share what we have in Poland.’

At subsequent conferences, delegates became aware of new threads and areas of interest developing. ‘Then, following the Oslo conference in 2014, I revisited the idea of bringing scholars to Poland, in collaboration with the Tatra Museum,’ says Barucka.

Featured image: Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane
Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

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Read more about the European Revivals Research Project — just follow the link below:

Download the programme from the European Revivals 2015 conference, Tatra Museum, Krakow and Zakopane

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Lecture: Gothic Modernity and Nordic Art

‘Gothic Modernity and Nordic Art: Identity, Community and Belonging at the Fin de Siècle’ by JULIET SIMPSON, Professor of Art History, Chair of Visual Arts Research at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University, which is a collaboration partner of the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery.

5 October, 2016
5 pm – 6 pm

Ateneum Art Museum, Ateneum Hall, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki
The talk is included in the price of admission to the gallery

Professor Simpson is an internationally-recognised expert in research and scholarship in European art, visual culture and French/European art criticism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and has collaborated with world-leading universities, museums and galleries. Professor Simpson is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Academic Art History Consultant for Compton Verney Museum, Warwickshire, UK.

For more information on Professor Simpson, see