Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, installation view, DEMONSTRATING MINDS: Disagreements in, Contemporary Art, 9.10.2015 - 20.03.2016. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: Should Art Have a Nation? And How Global Are We?

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


March 24, 2016


Nationalistic agendas are very strong in many European countries, and unfortunately Finland is no exception. The rise of nationalism also has its influences on the art world, where international activity has been one of the key elements. Today I can also hear echoes of polarised populistic discussion when visiting different board meetings and panels. ‘Should we support all artists living and working in Finland, or just Finnish artists?’ Public debate and the political climate in Finland have long been defined by a spirit of consensus and a striving for unanimity. Yet, with only one valid truth accepted at any given time, this climate of perpetual consensus sometimes grew to be suffocating.

Over the past year, Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki’s new outdoor public meeting place behind Kiasma, has been the stage for various demonstrations supporting everything from same-sex marriages to multiculturalism, as well as anti-racist rallies. Our immediate context is a melting pot where many agendas and people from all walks of society meet, collide and interact, and Kiasma strives to highlight a varied spectrum of themes in its seasonal programme. The ‘Demonstrating Minds’ exhibition, which opened in October 2105, is an international survey of political art, and it looks at how critical thinking and social consciousness manifest both locally and globally in contemporary art and in relation to art history. Answers that the artists give us in the form of works of art are more on a personal level. Each one of them is taking a stand by provoking even more complex and specific questions.

International politics has always influenced the art world: how artists work, travel and collect influences, and also how art history has been written in different times and revisited in the light of current topics and research results. In February 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum opened a large survey exhibition, ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918. Now it is possible to see Nordic golden age classics with a Japoniste twist – the signs and visual elements have been there even if we haven’t noticed them. At the end of the 19th century Japonisme took Europe by storm, spreading out from the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was part of a wider interest in the so-called Orient. Orientalism, a concept of the difference between East and West, between Orient and Continent, was created through an understanding and awareness of differences in cultural practices which that era’s Western anthropologists, historians and artists from different fields carried into their works.

In the current situation, there is still on-going mutual interest between these cultures. Even if we lose a lot of meanings in cultural translation, thanks to individual researchers we have now more knowledge and vivid interpretations. And after all, we like to rely on recognisable aesthetic and visual qualities that are shared between Japan and the Nordic countries, such as sophisticated minimalism and nature references. Still, we could ask: Should art have a nation? Or does art belong to some specific region? Is there Finnish art, and if so, does it include Nordic qualities or does it come, for example, with Japoniste influences?

In January 2016, Frame Visual Art Finland commissioned a survey from the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research Cupore. One of the key notions highlighted in its report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking, is how the nature of international activity in contemporary art has changed significantly. It has moved from cultural diplomacy between states towards multidirectional and multidimensional activity within networks. Internationality is also an integral part in Kiasma’s activities in terms of our acquisitions policy, research orientation, and especially programme making.

In the current Internet era we are living in a far-reaching world, and can share a feeling of being in different places at the same time. Our mindset has gradually changed. I would say that the art of our time – all times? – and also new art history writing, go hand in hand with global art life and international activity. The development of digital technology has substantially influenced the nature of international activities by making communication easier, even making it possible to move works in digital format across borders. We not only reflect cultural influences in art or exhibition-making, but actively produce it in our daily professional lives as curators, researchers and museum directors.

Featured image: Installation view of Suohpanterror, Checkpoint n:o 169, 2015, a series of posters on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma exhibition ‘Demonstrating Minds: Disagreements in Contemporary Art’, 2016.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Download the PDF of the report, From Cultural Influences and Exports to Dialogue and Networking from the Frame Finland website:


Nikolai Astrup, June, Night in the Garden, undated, colour woodcut with handcolouring, 31.2cm x 41.3cm, from the collections of the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. Photo: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo / Børre Høstland

Inspired by the Land of the Rising Sun

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The ‘Japanomania’ exhibition in Helsinki is the culmination of an innovative inquiry into Nordic Japonisme that began in 2011. Gill Crabbe meets the show’s Chief Curator, Professor Gabriel Weisberg, a leading authority on Japonisme, and Riitta Ojanperä, Director of Collections Management at the Finnish National Gallery, and reports on the highlights of the exhibition’s accompanying conference

Gabriel Weisberg, Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota, is a world expert on Japonisme, a term that was first used in 1872 by the French art critic and collector Philippe Burty to describe the influence of Japanese art on Western art and design that began around 1870 and flowered through to the end of the First World War. Prof. Weisberg was recently in Helsinki, as Chief Curator of ‘Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875–1918’, which opened at the Ateneum Art Museum, and which travels to the National Museum, Oslo, this summer, and to the Statens Art Museum, Copenhagen, in 2017. The project was started at the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki in 2011 as the museum wished to establish a deepened research collaboration with Prof. Weisberg. The curatorial team consisted in the beginning of Prof. Weisberg and the Finnish National Gallery’s Chief Curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff and was later increased with art historians from other Nordic countries.

I met Prof. Weisberg, along with Riitta Ojanperä, Editor in Chief of the FNG Research web magazine, to discuss key themes in the exhibition and in art-historical research relating to Japonisme in Finland and other Nordic countries. The meeting took place ahead of a day-long international conference on the topic, with distinguished art historians and experts on Japonisme taking part, including Director of the Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Akiko Mabuchi.
Prof. Weisberg’s interest in Japonisme began in the 1960s when, as a student, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Philippe Burty, who had put his finger on the start of a phenomenon that was to sweep across Europe and America. For Weisberg too his research was the start of an enduring passion that has lasted almost 50 years – one that he shares with his wife Yvonne – and perhaps following the footsteps of Burty, Weisberg himself has now coined the term ‘Japanomania’ in giving the title to this groundbreaking exhibition.

‘Japanomania wasn’t a term that was used in the 19th century,’ Prof. Weisberg explains. ‘It’s a word we have come up with to deal with what was previously called Japonisme, and I now call Japanomania because it was a phenomenon that touched every aspect of life.’ While Japonisme can be seen as an influence on Western art and design, Japanomania implies a much bigger impact, one that caused a frenzy of interest from artists, collectors and fashionable society. ‘It overtook everything,’ says Yvonne Weisberg. ‘Japanomania was huge in America, for example. It was chic. People had their houses redecorated with Japanese objects. The son of the American poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow even went to Japan and came back with his body tattooed.’

As Prof. Weisberg points out in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition: ‘The impact of Japanese art throughout the Nordic countries would not have been possible had Japonisme not become more than a mere curiosity.’

Featured image: Nikolai Astrup, June, Night in the Garden, undated, colour woodcut with handcolouring, 31.2cm x 41.3cm, from the collections of the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. Photo: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo / Børre Høstland

Read More — Download ‘Inspired by the Land of the Rising Sun’ as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>

See the video of a presentation in the recent Ateneum Art Museum conference on Japonisme in Nordic Art by Dr. Akiko Mabuchi:

See the Call for Papers for an international symposium Interaction, Influence, and Entanglement. 100 years of Finnish–Japanese Relations and Beyond organised at the University of Oulu, Finland in September, 2016:

Download the CFP of the ‘Interaction Influence and Entanglement’ Symposium >>

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 >>