Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

Over the Borders

Kati Kivinen, PhD, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Kati Kivinen interviews the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal, whose work focusing on Europe’s refugee crisis was featured in the recent ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

When doing research on art as social commentary for the exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (9 Oct, 2015 to 20 March, 2016), our curatorial team [1] wanted to discover how contemporary artists deal with different social and political injustices. We wanted to know what kind of strategies the artists employ to voice their indignation and mount resistance. In the era of exhibitions drawn on the signature imagery and repertoire of marches and demonstrations, from protest placards and riot barricades to Occupy camps and Pussy Riot, we wanted to find a different path to follow when tackling these issues. Instead of aestheticised politics or documentation of any particular political conflicts or events, we wanted to take a critical look at the universal power mechanisms and the conflicting stances that artists take against the prevailing consensus. Thus the selected works in the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ do not simply address a specific conflict or recent world event; rather they make a statement of a more universal yet also particular nature, often framed through metaphor or a deeply personal perspective. Instead of just reporting and acknowledging current events, the art in the exhibition offers an interpretative angle, leaving the ultimate conclusions up to the viewer.

The number one topic of discussion of the summer and autumn of 2015 has certainly been the refugee crisis, which has extended in a completely new way all the way up North to Finland as well. Both the media and coffee-table discussions have been taken over by the news of the influx of refugees and of the border fences that European countries have started to erect in order to direct the masses of refugees on new routes. Many artists have felt a strong need to tackle the subject in their individual works, especially with the aim of shedding light on the matters that easily remain hidden from mainstream media attention. This is what the Austrian artist Tanja Boukal (b. 1976) has also done in The Melilla Project (2014–15) which was on show at the ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition. However, at the same time discussion on the effects of the current situation on artistic production have arisen; questions on the ethics and responsibilities of the artists working with such delicate issues have been debated during this autumn. [2]
Tanja Boukal’s art revolves around people, their social circumstances and their various ways of coping in the face of adversity and unexpected challenges.

The Melilla Project is about a Spanish enclave on the north coast of Africa that is separated from Morocco by a 3m-high, 11km-long border fence. For many sub-Saharan Africans this 13.4 sq km enclave with its population of over 80,000, is a gateway to the north – a heavily guarded European fortress on the African continent. Boukal first travelled to Melilla on a research trip in spring 2014 to meet the refugees, both those waiting on the Moroccan side for ‘the perfect moment’ to jump the fence, as well as those who had somehow successfully crossed over, but were now stuck in limbo in the Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes (CETI) Camp in Melilla. Boukal wanted to meet them to discuss their dreams for the future and how it feels to wait, day in, day out, for a new life to begin, without ever knowing what will happen or when it will happen. Through her work she wishes to give visibility to those who are invisible and who have been deprived of the authorisation to speak and act on their own behalf.

I contacted the artist as I wanted to hear more about her ideas and thoughts on what it is like to work with such controversial subject matter and what kind of ethical duties and responsibilities are involved for artists in such a project.


[1] Kati Kivinen, Patrik Nyberg, Marja Sakari & Jari-Pekka Vanhala

[2] http://conversations.e-flux.com/t/some-points-to-consider-if-youre-an-artist-who-wants-to-make-work-about-refugees/2716/3

Featured image: Artist Tanja Boukal at Melilla CETI camp with residents, 2015. Photo: © Tanja Boukal

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Artist Hugo Simberg’s postcard to his twin brother Paul, Tiflis (Tbilisi) July, 15th, 1899. Hugo Simberg Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery.

Editorial: Your Chance to Make New Research more Visible

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Archive and Library Manager, Finnish National Gallery

 

January 25, 2016

 

Research is carried out in many ways at the Finnish National Gallery. Exhibitions, different kinds of publications – including this FNG Research online magazine – and articles are the most visible results. But our collections are studied in many other ways, too. An excellent example of the latter is the panel workshop for conservators that was recently organised at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, during which several paintings on panel were studied and conserved. An article on it is published in this issue.

The Finnish National Gallery has an important role in enabling research to be undertaken by those outside the organisation, too. Our collections function as subjects for study and as important source material for students and academics, for other museums preparing exhibitions and publications, and to private researchers and others, too.

Now FNG Research is opening a platform for new peer-reviewed scientific articles. We welcome papers in English studying the collections, history or activities of the Finnish National Gallery or its predecessors. This includes a wide range of different kinds of possible research fields and subjects, taking into consideration that our collections stretch from international Old Master paintings to contemporary art and archive collections, and that the activities range from exhibitions to conservation, documentation and public programmes.

We are eagerly looking forward to international collaboration in discovering new approaches, findings, results and points of view through our web magazine.

The guidelines for offering the submissions and the description of the peer-review process are to be found at the section ‘About FNG Research’ or click the link below.

Featured image: Artist Hugo Simberg’s postcard to his twin brother Paul, Tiflis (Tbilisi) July, 15th, 1899. Hugo Simberg Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery.

Download the Full Guidelines for Submitting Articles to FNG Research >>

Marja Kanervo, Pallet I-III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Destabilised Gaze Positions and Reminders of Mortality

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

First published in Marja Kanervo. Esiinkatoavaa = (Dis)appearing. Edited by Patrik Nyberg, Jari-Pekka Vanhala & Maija Kasvinen. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 138. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2013

In his seminal work The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard discusses the poetic image, which he posits as something radically different from metaphor, a petrified image to which we have become habituated. A poetic image is something unprecedented, and thereby creating something unprecedented. [1] Marja Kanervo modifies spaces in much the same way as a poet conjures up images and spaces with words. By removing structural components so that displaced elements form written words (MORE/LESS, 2013), or by adding artefacts that redefine their surroundings, she transforms the physical site which the viewer occupies into a dream-like ‘imaginary space’ that is charged with an emotional intensity that is difficult to express in words. The pieces featured in her retrospective at Kiasma in 2013 – a textual panorama, a deconstructed Wendy house, hair-reinforced concrete panels, concrete beds with human hair stuffing, and shirts adorned with buttons of human teeth neatly folded in display cases – acquire their meaning through their emphatic materiality. We viewers are forced to ask ourselves: what are my personal reactions to these seemingly familiar yet strangely warped and disjointed dream-like states?

[1] Tarja Roinila, 2003. ’Gaston Bachelard, tilan ja poetiikan filosofi’, in Bachelard, Gaston, La Poétique de l’espace, 1957. Helsinki: Nemo, 12–14.

Featured image: Marja Kanervo, Pallet I–III, 2013, installation, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

Read More — Download ‘Destabilised Gaze Positions and Reminders of Mortality’ by Marja Sakari as a PDF

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Wild Angelica, 1889, oil on canvas, 103 cm x 56 cm, August and Lydia Keirkner Fine Arts Collection, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Conferences: Changes in Visual Culture – Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918

19 February 2016

In connection with the exhibition ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875-1918’ (18 Feb-15 May), the Ateneum Art Museum organised an international conference on 19 February, 2016.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Wild Angelica, 1889, oil on canvas, 103cm x 56cm, August and Lydia Keirkner Fine Arts Collection, Ateneum Art Museum.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Download the Programme of ‘Changes in Visual Culture – Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918’ Conference as a PDF >>

 

Editorial: The Secret History of an Old Master

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

 

November 25, 2015

 

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum houses the most significant collection of Old Masters in Finland. The collection has grown as a result of several donations, the earliest ones dating back to the time of Grand Dutchy of Finland in the 19th century. Among the most important is the collection of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff which was donated in 1921 and is on show on the 1st floor of the museum. The works on display in a part this section of the museum are included in a faithful reconstruction of the Sinebrychoffs’ home as it was during the 1910s (see photograph above). The Museum’s collection spreads over several hundreds of years, from the 14th to the 19th century, and includes paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings and antiquities.

The research activity conducted in the Museum is focusing on the works of art from many different points of view and often has a multi-scholarly approach. The paintings can be studied in order to clarify questions concerning the authenticity, the attribution or the dating for example. When planning the conservation of a work of art, it is first studied technically. The collaboration of art historian and conservator is essential in the conservation process, as well as in the research into the work and actually a conservation treatment offers a natural opportunity to study the work in question more thoroughly.

The Rembrandt painting Reading Monk (1661) is considered one of the jewels of the Finnish National Gallery. There are no other paintings by Rembrandt in Finnish collections. This painting has been traditionally attributed to Rembrandt and it bears his signature. However, recently some doubts have been put forward concerning the attribution. The painting has been studied using various methods of technical analysis during previous decades, but it lacks a coherent and overall consideration. Sinebrychoff Art Museum together with the Conservation Department is now planning an international research project on the Rembrandt painting combining the expertise of scientists, art historians and conservators using modern technical methods of study. We hope that the painting will finally reveal its secret, whether or not it was executed by the great Dutch master.

Featured image: Paul Sinebrychoff in his study in 1910s, photographed by Signe Brander. Photo: Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Conferences: NORDIK 2015, Reykjavik

NORDIK Becomes a Full Association

Riitta Ojanperä, Director of Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, has been a Finnish member of the NORDIK board since 2012. Here she explains the exciting new developments that are placing NORDIK more firmly on the art-historical map

The NORDIK Committee For Art History, which has been active since 1983, has been a great example of the potential of professional networking and collaboration. The organisation of 11 triennial conferences has been based on a scholarly urge to meet the intellectual challenges of art history.

The art history departments of several universities in the Nordic countries, as well as many museum organisations, have been committed to fostering NORDIK’s goals. The network’s continuity has been assured by a functioning board with members representing both the academia and museum fields in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Nevertheless, the need to build the Committee’s future on a more solid institutional ground had been stated several years ago. This goal was accomplished when the Committee’s General Assembly met in May this year in Reykjavik, in the context of the 11th NORDIK conference, the first to have been arranged in Iceland.

At the meeting, the General Assembly accepted new regulations for the association named NORDIK (The Nordic Association of Art Historians). One basic advantage of the change from a network to a legal body in the form of an association is the opening of new practical ways for potential fundraising in the future.

The Association’s purpose and its aims, though, have not changed. It still exists to promote co-operation in the Nordic countries, to provide information, and to strengthen contacts between the Nordic and international art history communities. To fulfil its purpose it arranges the NORDIK conference. In addition to this, the new regulations state that the Association can help to arrange other conferences and symposiums, produce publications, and take initiatives that promote research and the education of scholars.

According to NORDIK’s long-established schedule, the next international conference will take place in three years time, in Copenhagen in 2018. The present chair of the Association is Dr Hlynur Helgason, from Iceland, and the chair of the next conference’s organising group is Dr. Henrik Holm from Denmark.

Featured image: Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Composition, 1952, serigraphy, 26,7cm x 44,8cm, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

For more information, please visit the NORDIK webpage http://nordicarthistory.org/ or contact the Association’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/804379882941687/.

 


 

NORDIK Conferences 1984–2015

1984
Nordic Art around the Turn of the Century
Helsinki, Finland

1987
Nordic Sponsors of the Arts
Gothenburg, Sweden

1990
Influence and Exchange
Ry, Denmark

1993
The Identity of Art History
Geilo, Norway

1996
Art After 1945
Turku, Finland

2000
The History of Art History
Uppsala, Sweden

2003
Exhibitions
Aarhus, Denmark

2006
Tradition and Visual Culture
Bergen, Norway

2009
Mind and Matter
Jyväskylä, Finland

2012
Presentation/Representation/Repression, The Critical Production of Display and Interpretation in Art History
Stockholm, Sweden

2015
Mapping Uncharted Territories
Reykjavik, Iceland

 


 

Professional Match-making

Interview by Gill Crabbe

The Ateneum Art Museum Director Susanna Pettersson has a close relationship with the Nordic Committee for Art History. Here she explains the vital role played by this innovative organisation

The Director of Helsinki’s Ateneum Art Museum, Susanna Pettersson, has been a guiding influence in the recent history of the Nordic Committee for Art History (NORDIK). When the Committee was first set up in Helsinki in 1984 to promote research networks between Nordic art historians, it identified its main task as organising a triennial NORDIK conference. Nine conferences and almost 30 years on, that task was entrusted to Pettersson when, as chair of the Board from 2010–12, she presided over the organisation of the 10th NORDIK conference, which took place in Stockholm in 2012.

One of the key features of NORDIK is its commitment to bring together scholars from both university and museum contexts, as historically these have been separate organisational strands in the field of art history. As Pettersson explains: ‘If you take the example of the history of the Ateneum, the key people who were Board members of the Finnish Art Society – one of the predecessors of the FNG – were art historians working at the university, so at that time they had feet in both camps. That was the situation until the Second World War.

‘However, after the War people working in the museums formed one team and those at the universities formed another, and they didn’t really communicate too much. This situation continued until the early 1980s – it was very much the case in Finland but it was also the case in other European countries, so setting up the Nordic Committee for Art History as a network brought together people from both camps.

Pettersson firmly believes that the NORDIK conference is a game-changer in bringing art historians together in this way. Among the many benefits of the conference, she identifies three key advantages.

Read More

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Conference Abstracts from four Finnish delegates

 

Ålandian Landscape – There’s Always a Meaning in a Seemingly Meaningless Landscape
Anna-Maria Wiljanen, PhD, Executive Director, UPM-Kymmene Cultural Foundation

Download the Abstract as a PDF >>

From the Blade of Grass to Musical Landscapes – Japonisme and Musicality in Nordic Art
Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Senior Curator, Ateneum Art Museum

Download the Abstract as a PDF >>

Tyko Sallinen and the Marginalisation of the Russian Avant-garde in his Art
Timo Huusko, PhDLic., Chief Curator, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

Download the Abstract as a PDF >>

Technological Utopia versus Cultural Dystopia – Discussing Peripheral Modernisms and Modern Cultural Identities in Finland after the Second World War
Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery

Download the Abstract as a PDF >>

The Adoration of the Magi – a Masterpiece

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

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä had bought this painting of the Adoration of the Magi in Venice in 1898. [1] According to Osvald Sirén it would have been the jewel of Aspelin’s collection had it not been in such poor condition. Sirén, however, had deeper insight when he attributed this ‘beautiful ruin’ to Giovanni Boccati in 1921. [2] The abundant ornamentality and fluent composition of the Late Gothic were, according to Sirén, characteristic of the work owned by Aspelin, which he associated in terms of style with Gentile da Fabriano and particularly with a painting of the same title by him in Florence. The figures of the Virgin and children, the nature of the background scenery and the decorative details of the painting in turn pointed to Boccati. Sirén compared this painting to an altarpiece predella painted by Boccati in 1447 (Pala del Pergolato, Perugia), with its theme of the Passion and especially the scene of Christ bearing His cross. In the latter work, the marine landscape and the town wall with its towers resembled the Aspelin painting. [3] Sirén dates the work in Aspelin’s collection to before the Perugia predella of 1447. [4]

[1] Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä observed the connections of the painting with the works of Gentile da Fabriano in his notes, where he wrote “Tuscan-Umbrian in the manner of Gentile da Fabriano”. Literature Archives of the Finnish Literature Society, folder A469, Helsinki. I am indebted to Hanne Selkokari for this information.

[2] Sirén, Osvald, 1921. Tidiga Italienska Målningar i Finska Samlingar. Stenmans konstrevy no 4–5, 1921, 44.

[3] Sirén 1921, 43–44.

[4] Sirén 1921, 45. Sirén leaves any closer dating open by noting: ”… and have cause to assume that he was already active several years previously.”

Featured image: Giovanni Boccati, The Adoration of the Magi, (1440–1445), oil on panel, 80cm x 53,2cm, Aspelin-Haapkylä Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Read More — Download ‘The Adoration of the Magi – a Masterpiece’ by Kirsi Eskelinen as a PDF

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Pastel Painting – a Rococo Beauty in the Eyes of a Painter

Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Curator, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

The pastel painting in the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Art Collection entitled Countess Poaton shows a young woman with her face depicted in a slanting position, slightly inclined towards the right of the viewer. The front of her dress is decorated with a beautiful border of flowers and lace, with a lock of her dark-brown hair hanging freely over it. The hair forms small rosettes as if by chance. On top of the young woman’s white-powdered coiffure is a bouquet of small blue flowers. A blue scarf of the same hue directs the viewer’s gaze. This type of treatment of the subject is typical of portraits by Gustaf Lundberg, who repeated certain elements from one year to another, with only the features of the face altered in a slightly flattering fashion to resemble the subject.

Pastel paintings are at their best when viewed in a slightly subdued light and at a greater distance than usual. In some places the execution of this portrait appears clumsy at close range; the red of the cheeks is clearly striped and the skin around the nose seems exaggeratedly dark. Yet the bodice of the dress is executed with great finesse, showing the almost dream-like delicateness of pastel painting at its best. When the work is put in its presumed contemporary lighting, the viewer is taken by the beauty of the whole painting and the skill of the artist. It is the work of an artist who in an obviously explicit manner left out everything that is superfluous, while achieving his planned goal of a charming pastel painting.

Featured image: Gustaf Lundberg, Countess Poaton (date unknown). Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Read More — Download ‘Pastel Painting – a Rococo Beauty in the Eyes of a Painter’ by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi as a PDF

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Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum building, gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photo: Finnish National Gallery.

Editorial: Go Go Collection Research!

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

 

September 25, 2015

 

My lifelong passion has been collection studies and museum history. I began exploring this topic in the late-1980s when it was not very high on the agenda. Later on, collections and museum history have earned their place within the academic discourse – and for a good reason.

Collections form the absolute core of the Finnish National Gallery and it goes without saying that the collection is our shared passion today. It consists of more than 36,000 works of art and a priceless archive of letters, documents, photographs and other material that completes the story of art. This rich collection is a wonderful combination of artworks and documents relating to the creative process – correspondence revealing thoughts and ideas, photos from decades that have been long gone and much more.

Our exhibition projects, whether they are in-house productions, joint ventures or tailor-made productions, are all based on extensive research – from studies related to a single work, to complete analysis of a whole artistic oeuvre or phenomenon within visual arts. The well-spent hours in the library reading books and looking at the archive material, seeking new data, making links and discovering things, can be described as a seductive and very addictive part of our work – not to mention the close study of the artworks.

The history of collection and its sub-collections are of interest as well. Take Siv and Rolando Pieraccini’s substantial donation, for example: the largest collection of 20th-century Italian graphic art outside Italy, it consists of more than 1,300 works by 50 artists and opens a huge possibility for new initiatives that may lead to a number of exhibitions.

Our aim at the Finnish National Gallery is to strengthen and develop the co-operation between museums and universities, as well as with individual scholars. We are organising international research conferences around the themes that are of importance for us. And we are looking forward to welcoming new researchers to dive into our collections and archives – and get to know our in-house experts who cover the huge range of art history, from the Renaissance to contemporary art and culture.

The international community is all about networks and contacts. Therefore, we strongly believe in sharing what we have with others.

I wish that you enjoy reading FNG Research.

Featured image: The Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photographer unknown. Photo: Finnish National Gallery

 

Interior of the Finnish pavilion at the Paris World Fair 1900. The pavilion was designed by the young Finnish architects Armas Lindgren, Herman Gesellius and Eliel Saarinen. Works on display in the pavilion were commissioned from the most prominent Finnish artists. Today many of them belong to the Finnish National Gallery art collection. Paris was the meeting point for artists and revivalist ideas all over Europe. Photo: Archive Collections / Finnish National Gallery.

Editorial: Reaching Out

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

 

July 15, 2015

 

Welcome to the first issue of FNG Research web magazine!

Interest in the Finnish National Gallery’s collections and an awareness of their specific quality has been long established in the professional sphere of art history. Important loans from these collections, together with the Finnish National Gallery’s own progressive exhibitions policy, have enabled growing audiences in various parts of the world to explore its gems.

The research interests and activities that are shared between experts working in the Finnish National Gallery and their colleagues internationally, both in museums and academia, result in vivid curatorial collaborations, international conferences and seminars, as well as publications in several languages. By launching the FNG Research web magazine the Finnish National Gallery wishes to amplify the accessibility of its research practices, facilitate professional networking and encourage international exchange around the questions of art history, cultural history and museum studies, raised in the context of its rich Finnish and international collections.

Featured image: Interior of the Finnish pavilion at the Paris World Fair 1900. The pavilion was designed by the young Finnish architects Armas Lindgren, Herman Gesellius and Eliel Saarinen. Works on display in the pavilion were commissioned from the most prominent Finnish artists. Today many of them belong to the Finnish National Gallery art collection. Paris was the meeting point for artists and revivalist ideas all over Europe. Photo: Archive Collections / Finnish National Gallery

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