Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019 Photo: David Parry

Showing Schjerfbeck in London

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The major survey exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which travels to Helsinki in November, marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum and has put Finland’s national treasure firmly on the wider European cultural map. Gill Crabbe met Jeremy Lewison, the lead curator of the exhibition in London, to discuss the significance of Schjerfbeck’s work and how he conceived the show for the Academy’s new gallery space

How did you come across the work of Helene Schjerfbeck?

I first saw her work in an exhibition called ‘Identity and Alterity’, organised by Jean Claire, at the Venice Biennale in 1995, and there were five self-portraits in that show. I remember being struck not only by the power of these portraits but also their imaginative quality and they just seemed to be very different and shocking in many ways – not all of them were late self-portraits, they ranged across her career. I thought, here is an artist I’d like to find out more about. I did nothing until after I had set up on my own and in the Nordic region I came across her work in different places and saw a survey show in Gothenburg around 2009–10. However, at that show I didn’t really have any sense of the coherence of her work and I was not so impressed. But I kept thinking there must be another way of looking at the work, especially as the self-portraits were so powerful, so I began to do my own research. When I was working on the Alice Neel show in Helsinki I was given a copy of the catalogue of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: 150 years’ celebration exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2012) and it was at that point I thought I could put together an interesting exhibition. It took a while to raise a wider interest in the project in London. Then in 2016 I asked if the Ateneum Art Museum would support my effort to organise an exhibition in London. Susanna Pettersson, then Director of the museum, was enthusiastic and I suggested that the Royal Academy of Arts would be the right place.

Why did you suggest the RA?

The Academy mounts both large survey shows in its Main Galleries and mid-scale exhibitions in the Sackler Wing of Galleries and in its new space, the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Since Helene Schjerfbeck had a strong relationship to Old Master painting – and so historically does the RA – I thought the Academy could be an interesting context in which to show her work. I put together a presentation for RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow, curator Sarah Lea and exhibitions producer Andrea Tarsia and they were enthusiastic. That was in 2017. Then it had to go to the RA’s Exhibitions Committee – comprising mainly Royal Academicians – and they approved it. .

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019
Photo: David Parry

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Helene Schjerfbeck, ­ Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Artist Ian McKeever on the Raw Power of Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portraits

Ian McKeever, painter and Royal Academician

First published in the Summer 2019 issue of RA Magazine to coincide with the presentation of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (until 27 October 2019)

‘For I have always found it impossible to resemble myself from one day to the next.’
– Philippe Ricord

‘…I never go around mirrors… it tears me up to see a grown man cry,’ he sang to himself, as he looked into the mirror. The face staring back at him, presumably to others always the same face, was to him barely known. He never could figure out whose skin he was in; for sure it was not his. But then he would not recognise his own skin were it ever to wrap itself around him. How did others deal with this, he wondered? Did they too feel this discomfort, a rub which never eased? Never spoken about, lived with; or was he one of just a few who had what felt like a body on loan. A body he did not fully trust. Committing to something he did not fully know or trust seemed reckless. So he withheld, as if only ever partially present in the world. A part of himself held back, unsure if he had the resilience to endure, survive total immersion. Most of the time he felt truly lost. Things around him, people even, polluted him. Turning him into mere flotsam and jetsam floating aimlessly, without meaning. Becoming just a part of the vague, directionless flow of life. Any meaning which might crystallize itself into something concrete, graspable, eluded him most of the time. So when in those odd moments it did materialise, he hung on to it as if his life depended on it. He turned away from the mirror, casting one last glance into those eyes.

It is 1975. I am in Helsinki. Participating in my first group exhibition abroad. It is an exhibition of SPACE artists, the London-based studio collective, at the Taidehalli, the city exhibition space run by the Finnish Artists’ Union. The city feels dour, grey, emerging as it was from being politically sandwiched between Sweden and the Soviets. Each of the visiting artists has been allocated a Finnish counterpart as minder-cum-guide. Mine is Timo, a painter photographer, who also writes, perhaps a couple of years younger than myself. We get on well. On one of the free days Timo takes me to the Ateneum Art Museum, which houses part of the Finnish national collection of paintings. It is my first introduction to the history of Finnish art. Difficult; I have no reference points. However, Timo is good, he knows his country’s painting tradition, and he helps me to ease my way in. Some works come easier than others; the large snowy landscape of Akseli Gallen-Kallela for instance, I can thread back to a broader context with relative ease. At one point we find ourselves in a gallery of smallish paintings, still-lifes, landscapes and portraits. It is the work of Helene Schjerfbeck, Timo enthuses. I am both curious and nonplussed. Unable to make head or tail of what I am looking at – why the fuss?

Over the following years Timo and I become good friends and I am in Finland fairly regularly. On such visits at some point I invariably find myself standing yet again in front of Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings. They have become a Finnish marker for me. One of those things we use when travelling to tell us we have arrived, be it a croissant in Paris or the mounds of fresh mint in Marrakesh. Paintings too can anchor one from museum to museum, country to country. I have only to stand in front of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s small Portrait of a Young Woman in Funen Art Museum in Odense to know I am slap bang in the middle of Denmark and its culture. For me in Finland this has become Helene Schjerfbeck

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, ­Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Finnish Women Artists in the Modern World

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

Also in Anu Allas and Tiina Abel (eds.), Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian and Finnish Art. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia, 2019 (to be published in December 2019)

The works of Finnish women artists, and the choices they made both in their lives and careers show how women worked independently in this demanding profession in the early decades of the 20th century. They were forced to strike a balance between expectations and restrictions arising from their gender and their professional goals, as well as from their personal desires. Women who established professional careers in art refused to make concessions regarding the content of their work; they had a firm idea of themselves as artists and were well aware of their abilities and talents. For example, Ellen Thesleff considered herself a creative genius, regardless of gender, while Helene Schjerfbeck wanted to be treated and addressed first and foremost as an artist, without reference to her gender.[1] What is noteworthy is the uncompromising attitude of these women towards their work. Many of them were able to renew themselves as artists even at advanced ages and to learn new techniques.

Although gender was not an obstacle to studies in the fine arts in Finland, many women artists at the turn of the 20th century were nevertheless forced to make choices in their private lives in order to continue in the profession. For example, those who remained unmarried included Fanny Churberg, Ester Helenius, Helmi Kuusi, Sigrid Schauman, Helene Schjerfbeck, Ellen Thesleff and Maria Wiik. Thesleff believed that solitude was part of creative work and a sign of a strong ego.[2] Many others found spouses or partners who were also active in art and culture, among them Ina Colliander, Elin Danielson, Hilda Flodin, Greta Hällfors, Tove Jansson, Tuulikki Pietilä, Elga Sesemann and Venny Soldan.[3] Sigrid Schauman’s solution was perhaps the most radical: she did not marry the father of her daughter and decided to raise her alone. At the time, this was exceptional by any standards and was certainly not socially acceptable for an upper-class woman such as herself.

Women played an important role in the construction of the field of art in Finland in the latter half of the 19th century and later in the portrayal of a modern civic society. They were also bold and innovative, experimenting with styles and forms, as well as techniques. In this essay, I discuss modernist trends in Finnish art from the particular viewpoint of the construction of professional careers for women artists.[4]

 

[1] Konttinen, Riitta 2004. Oma tie. Helene Schjerfbeckin elämä. Helsinki: Otava, 249.

[2] Konttinen, Riitta 2017. Täältä tullaan! Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa. Helsinki: Siltala, 54.

[3] Ina Colliander’s husband was the author Tito Colliander; Elin Danielson married the Italian artist Raffaello Gambogi. Hilda Flodin was married to the painter Juho Rissanen, and Greta Hällfors to the artist Sulho Sipilä. Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä were partners for several decades. Elga Sesemann married a fellow student, the artist Seppo Näätänen. Venny Soldan was married to the author Juhani Aho (Brofeldt).

[4] Even though women played a significant role in the Finnish art scene at the turn of the century, only about 10 per cent of professional artists were women. The number of works acquired for museum collections at the time was the same: around 10 per cent were made by women.

Featured image: Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen#

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Call for Research Interns 2020

Finnish National Gallery
Call for Research Interns 2020

The Finnish National Gallery wishes to raise new interest in research topics based on its resources and collections. It also wishes to be an active and innovative partner in collaborating with the academic scene in reinforcing humanistic values and the importance of understanding the world and human culture by creating new, meaningful and relevant knowledge.

For this purpose the Finnish National Gallery organises a research internship programme for art or cultural history students (preferably master’s-level) internationally.

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

In 2020 the Finnish National Gallery is prepared to receive three research interns.

The internship period is three months with the intern under contract to the Finnish National Gallery. The salary is equivalent to the salary of university trainees.

The intern chooses in advance the material of the Finnish National Gallery collections that he/she wishes to study, and agrees on studying it during the internship period. It is desirable that the material will form part of the intern’s thesis. The intern is required, during the period of their internship, to write a text in English, based on the material and the research done at the National Gallery. The text may be published in one of the sections of the FNG Research web magazine.

Each intern will have an in-house professional tutor at the Finnish National Gallery. The tutor and the intern will meet on average weekly.

The Finnish National Gallery is not responsible for the academic supervision of the intern’s master’s thesis. The role of the National Gallery is to support the intern’s skills in collections research practices.

Are you interested? If so, please send your application by e-mail to fngr@nationalgallery.fi or by post to FNG Research, Senior Researcher Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland.

Applications can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish.

The deadline for applications is 15 November 2019 and the appointments will be announced by 13 December 2019.

The interns are appointed by the FNG Research editorial board.

For more information about the application process and programme, please click on the link below:

How to apply for the research internship programme at the Finnish National Gallery for master’s-level art and cultural history students >>

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 https://fngresearch.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/european_revivals_call_for_papers.pdf).

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

Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018: By your Side, stone and double seat, and Atmospheric #1, railing, pole, light, poly bag, light and colour sensor; stone, soundless cracking agent Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Time out of Joint – Temporality and the Anthropocene in Contemporary Art

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Silja Kudel

A large rock rests upon one of two blue seats. Another waits on the floor. When the viewer enters the room, they might observe a crack in the first rock – or not. A flickering light bulb wrapped in a plastic bag is attached to a metal railing above. Time is out of Joint 1 (2018), by Sari Palosaari (b. 1974), emulates the atmosphere of an anonymous waiting room, possibly in a hospital or railway station. The static environment belies a hidden tension. Inside the rock is a silent cracking agent that does its work with simple efficacy: a hole is drilled, the cavity is filled, and the agent slowly expands, eventually splitting open the rock.

This article looks at issues of temporality raised by works in the ‘Coexistence’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki – exploring perspectives on the past, present and future, and also ideas about decelerated and accelerated time. The notion of accelerated time is associated with a modernist faith in progress, yet also, to a growing degree, with a rising concern about climate change and discourse on the Anthropocene that raises salient questions about the future and the role that humans will play in it.

Featured image: Sari Palosaari, Time is out of Joint 1, 2018, Finnish National Gallery / Finnish State Art Deposit Collection
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

From Speciesism to a Possibility of Coexistence

Sanna Karhu, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Gender Studies, Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Satu Oksanen (eds.), Yhteiseloa / Coexistence. Human, Animal and Nature in Kiasma’s Collections. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 166/2019. Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery, 2019. Transl. Soili Petäjäniemi-Brown

Animals and the politics of violence

The relationship of humans to other animal species is contradictory. We think of ourselves as animal-loving and our lives abound with different animal images, whether in clothing, the emojis in text messages or in the everyday entertainment offered to us by cute cat videos. On the other hand, our entire postindustrial way of life is founded on widespread killing of animals: the greatest part of animals living in our society ends up on our plates.

The ‘Coexistence’ collection exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma nudges us to revisit how we perceive our relationship with other species. The exhibition calls into question the place habitually accorded to human beings as above nature and other animals and as their sovereign. In this article I approach the relationship of humans with animals from the perspective of speciesism. I discuss speciesism in the light of climate change but also as a problem of violence. I engage in particular with the relation of factory farming of animals to the history of capitalism and the ensuing need to question naturalised notions of the status of animals in our communities. The questions brought up here concerning communality and coexistence intertwine with my aim of outlining the conditions of a new kind of relationship with animals.

Featured image: Terike Haapoja, Yhteisö – Community, 2007, five-channel video installation, duration 180min. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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