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

Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Article: Eye, Phallus and Fantasy: Recurring Figures in the Paintings of Markus Heikkerö

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

 

First published in Markus Heikkerö. Elämä on turhaa baby… / Life’s a bitch, baby… Edited by Saara Hacklin, this article transl. by Silja Kudel. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 149/2015. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2015

The unbelievable is happening as soon as we open our mouths.[1]

Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, 2003

Listening to Markus Heikkerö, the above statement could not be truer. Memories, anecdotes and incidents from his life become interwoven in an endless saga – much in the same way as copulating cartoon creatures, extra-terrestrials and disfigured human bodies are entwined in the jumbled character gallery of his paintings. The bewildering, sexually fanciful imagery of his 1960s and ’70s paintings finds its match in a colourful array of titles: The Fateful Vermin of Ursus, Necrophiliac Childbirth, The Pegasus Conspiracy and Ali Receives a Commandment by the Red Sea (Self-Portrait). Sexual encounters of sundry descriptions morph into acts of theatrical performativity in his panoramic fantasies.

My personal interest in Heikkerö’s work was piqued by the psychedelically trippy, sexually risqué imagery of his early canvases and their complex allusions both to classical paintings and to Disney iconography: think Mickey Mouse high-fiving protagonists out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. With the passing decades, the boldly explicit content of his canvases has moved in a more metaphorical direction, the exuberant exaggeration of his early work being replaced by larger-scale canvases of exponentially amplified expressivity.

‘Abandoned Orphans’ (1967–68) is an early series of paintings showing the influence of Max Ernst and other surrealists whom Heikkerö has cited as influential to his work. His fascination with surrealism was also inspired by the painter Alpo Jaakola, who was a friend of the family. The weird protagonists and introverted mysticism of Jaakola’s Äänittäjät (The Recorders, 1962) and Uni Erämaassa (Dream in the Wilderness, 1966) offer reference points for reading the sketchily rendered, floundering figures and warped reality of the ‘Abandoned Orphans’ series. Heikkerö was intrigued by Ernst’s 1920s experimental combinations of visual elements in paintings such as Murdering Airplane (1920), Celebes (1921) and Ubu Imperator (1923), which all depict people, animals and machines merging in unsettling states of metamorphosis. Similarly, Ernst created collages by cutting up and re-organising clippings from advertisements and brochures, creating strange anthropomorphic creatures paired with classical sculpted torsos as were common in the work of the surrealists and Italian Metaphysical painters, such as De Chirico.

 


[1] Royle, Nicholas, 2003. The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 291.

Featured image: Markus Heikkerö, Summer Day in Kangasala, 1969, oil painting, 84,5cm x 100cm, Markus Heikkerö Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

 

Read More — Download ‘Eye, Phallus and Fantasy: Recurring Figures in the Paintings of Markus Heikkerö’ by Leevi Haapala as a PDF

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Artist Markus Heikkerö has donated a large collection of his artworks and his archive to the Finnish National Gallery. To see the artworks, visit

http://kokoelmat.fng.fi/app?lang=en&si=http%3A%2F%2Fkansallisgalleria.fi%2FE78.Collection_Markus_Heikkeron_kokoelma&museummode=all

For more information on the archival material, you can access the web publication Markus Heikkerö – Ideasta teokseksi / From Idea to Work of Art at

http://www.lahteilla.fi/fi/publication/markus-heikkero

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:

http://www.frame-finland.fi/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Report-Frame-Visual-Art-Finland.pdf