Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Hear the Heartbeats of Museum Collections

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

‘Is “contemporary” the name of an art-historical period that has succeeded modernism, or does ‘contemporaneity’ mean that periodization is past (an anachronism from modernity) both in general culture and in art?’  This question from the Australian art historian Terry Smith prompts us to think about the meaning of living today and actively shaping our cultural heritage. Is contemporary art a label for today’s art, or is ‘contemporaneity’ also something that can be found from each historical period?

Art collection is one way of telling our story as a nation. That is a big challenge. What kind of story do we want to tell? And how do we want to be remembered by future citizens and museum visitors from other countries? Who are we, who are those who belong to ‘us’, and how is the nation defined through art? Museum directors need to face these questions every time they plan a new collection display or write an article about one of the museum’s many collections.

The art museum is a collecting institution. The collections of the Finnish National Gallery comprise around 40,000 works of art, objects and an art-historical research archive. The collections are closely integrated into the three museums’ exhibition programmes in the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. In the current edition of FNG Research, all three museum directors reveal the timespan and the guidelines for current acquisitions. Each time has valued its art differently – asking what is important, who are the artists to represent the nation or a particular patron, what is the relationship between private and public collections, whose taste to follow? The exhibition and research activities of the three museums range from contemporary digital art and European old masters to the constitutive history of Finnish art before and after Independence. One time’s novelty is today’s antiquity.

Collection is a wider concept than just the body of works. The organisation of exhibitions and public programmes inside the museum goes hand in hand with acquiring collections. Every year a number of pieces exhibited in the temporary exhibitions programme of the three museums augment the collections: either as purchased works of art, or through documenting them in photographs, artist interviews and research articles. Museums create narratives around the collections and about the collections via arts professionals together with living artists or with the help of documents. The art-historical archive is a treasure, full of artists’ correspondence and notebooks, audio records and media archives, art reviews, and even more.

Contemporary art is created and displayed in a context that is characterised by interaction between local and global culture. Finnish contemporary art, too, has become an important part of the international scene with its biennales, topical museum exhibitions, international artist residencies and art fairs. Kiasma’s collections are currently developed by acquiring important works of contemporary art of outstanding quality, regardless of national or geographic boundaries and yet with an underlying focus on art from nearby regions. Kiasma’s mission is to collect current contemporary art that reflects the times as broadly as possible. Important factors that determine acquisitions are an understanding of the times, fearless vision and sensitivity to phenomena such as network culture. As the Ateneum Art Museum’s Director Susanna Pettersson remarks in her paper in this edition, ‘The trends of the 21st century urge the museum field to share collection resources and to make better and more effective use of collections.’ That is precisely the target we are aiming at in Kiasma too, as we prepare to launch a digital Online Art Collection as a part of the forthcoming ‘ARS17’ exhibition. Through this initiative, online commissions will be made directly accessible to our digital natives wherever they may be.

The collection is the heart of the museum!

Featured image: Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

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.

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

Article: 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

Read More — Download ‘Amedeo Modigliani and the Portrait of Léopold Survage’ by Timo Huusko as a PDF

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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

Article: 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

Read More — Download ‘Return to Nature’ by Gill Crabbe as a PDF

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

https://research.fng.fi/research-projects/

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

Download the Conference Programme as a PDF >>

Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Portrait of a Lady, undated, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,3cm x 6,3cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Editorial: Sinebrychoff’s Small Gems

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

 

July 14, 2016

 

The renowned art collector Paul Sinebrychoff had a special interest in portraits. He also gathered a rare collection of miniatures which, in his own time in the late 19th century, was the largest collection in Northern Europe. The collection includes about 400 pieces and is still the most important collection in Finland.

About 15 years ago, the miniatures were studied and conservation work was then carried out on them as part of a thorough renewal and restoration of the museum building of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum on Bulevardi in Helsinki. However, as is the case with every part of the collection, they need to be taken care of on a continuous basis. Now, the miniatures are being treated again. There are only a few specialists in miniature painting conservation. Dr. Bernd Pappe, who is interviewed in this issue, is a world-renowned specialist in this field, as well as an art historian. He reveals the painstaking work behind the scenes.

During the past two years special effort has been put into developing the access to the art works in Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s house museum. It is an essential part of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s new strategy to engage our audiences and generate a new kind of dialogue and encounter with the art works in the milieu of the collector’s home, which is a unique example of its kind in Finland. When visiting our website you can already have a virtual tour of the house museum or make acquaintance with Paul Sinebrychoff’s favourite portraits – his friends as he used to call them – hanging in his study.

Museum curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi has studied the miniature collection. She is currently leading a project on the miniatures, which enables us to present them with a digital platform to make them more accessible and even more enjoyable and exciting to the general public.

Featured image: Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Portrait of a Lady, undated, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,3cm x 6,3cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Picture This!

Conferences: Picture This!

24–25 November 2016

This upcoming two-day international conference organised by the Finnish Museums Association, the Finnish National Gallery, and the Finnish Museum of Photography discusses the position and challenges of museums in the world of growing and changing streams of images.  The venues of the conference will be the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

To view the programme of the conference, please visit http://museoliitto.fi/picturethis

Editorial: For the Record

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

 

May 26, 2016

 

Since the coming of Foucault and his contemporary poststructuralist theorists, the epistemological conception of knowledge has not been the same. The cultural positions of categories and subjects of knowledge and the formation of historical narratives have made institutions like museums more aware of their historiographic status. A significant interest in archives both as physical entities and as metaphors of understanding or controlling the world has manifested in contemporary artworks, as well as providing a focus for art-historical research questions.

The Finnish National Gallery’s archival collections have offered research material for art and art history discourse since the late 19th century, when the collecting and preserving of artists’ letters, among other archival objects, first began.

In March 2016 the Ateneum Art Museum of the Finnish National Gallery opened a new collections display, ‘Stories of Finnish Art’, which, together with the artworks, showcases the richness of archival materials from the collections. The display reveals the archives’ multifaceted nature as sources for art history, as historical reminiscences and as aesthetic inspiration for exhibition design.

A praiseworthy amount of labour and confidence in providing future generations with the ingredients of knowledge has been invested in indexing press clippings since the early 1890s. We are now happy to share, in digital form, the information content and nostalgic beauty of hand-written index cards in our archives, containing data on press articles or news items on more than 24,000 artists.

Featured image: An index card of archival material relating to Akseli Gallén-Kallela now available in digital format.

To view the archival index cards, visit:

http://taiteilijaviitekortit.kansallisgalleria.fi/en/

You are welcome to read the current issue of FNG Research and to take part in narrating the stories of Finnish art and its international contexts.