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.

Alfred William Finch, Rainy Weather at Hampton Court, 1907, oil on canvas, 63cm x 79cm, Antell Collections, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Article: ‘New relations, unsuspected harmonies’: Modern British Art in Finland, 1906–1964

Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator of Modern British Art, Tate, London

 

The above quotation[1] is taken from a description penned by Roger Fry of a painting by Paul Cézanne, Les Maisons Jaunes, (1879–82), now known as The Viaduct at L’Estaque, which was shown at the exhibition, ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’, at the Grafton Galleries in London from 8 November, 1910 to 11 January, 1911. This work was acquired for the collection of the Finnish Art Society at the Art Museum of the Ateneum in Helsinki,[2] following discussion involving the London-based Finnish art historian Tancred Borenius and the Finnish professor of aesthetics and literature Yrjö Hirn. Copies of the letters between Borenius and Hirn held in the archive collections of the Finnish National Gallery show the extent to which Fry influenced this particular acquisition. Borenius refers to Fry’s direct involvement in the selection of acquisitions, recommends Fry to Hirn as one of Europe’s foremost connoisseurs and, finally, mentions the fact that Fry promised to publish a written appraisal of the acquisition in The Burlington Magazine, thus validating the quality and value of the painting in the eyes of the public. With increasing infrastructure and affluence in the first half of the 20th century, travel and international communications became more viable for artists, critics, scholars and collectors alike in Europe. Consequently, the period 1905–65 was witness to the rapid expansion of the art market. National museums in a number of European capitals outside the established art market centres of London, Paris, Vienna, Moscow and St. Petersburg, began to collect contemporary and international art; and the frequency with which temporary exhibitions were staged increased. The legacy of decisions made concerning acquisitions, exhibitions and institutional strategy during this period continue to affect the activity and structure of arts organisations to the present day and, yet, the details of the international networks that emerged and underwrote these decisions remain under-researched.

As theoretical, stylistic and technical developments in modern art spread across Europe, each country developed its own national variants that most often have been the object of study for home-grown art historians within the country of origin. By taking a view of the activity of British artists from without, focusing on the instances when artists and artworks travelled beyond national borders, I will begin to build up a picture of British art and Britishness as a foreign entity. This will, I hope, throw new light on a familiar field, and reveal something of the social, political and economic significance of art in Britain during this transitional period. Indicatively, a recent selective catalogue of the international collection of the Ateneum Art Museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery, lists works by country, covering France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Estonia, Poland, the United States, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Japan, China – but not Britain, though the collection includes over 300 objects made by British or part-British artists.[3] Narrowing this number to those works made during the modern period (for the purposes of this study defined as 1890–1965), I am chiefly concerned with the 73 acquisitions that occurred within this timeframe – bracketed by the first purchases in 1906 and, in 1964, the last acquisition – which, I argue, should be seen less as a result of discreet networks and more as a product of a general programme of international acquisitions and displays.[4] Using as the backbone of my research the acquisitions made by the successive governing committees of what is now constituted as the Ateneum Art Museum, this essay attempts to map chronologically some of the exchanges between Britain and Finland – between artists, collectors, art schools, exhibition venues, commercial galleries, national galleries, scholars, critics and other organisations – to which Fry’s description of ‘new relations, unsuspected harmonies’ may fruitfully be applied.

[1] Roger Fry, ‘Acquisition by the National Gallery at Helsingfors’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 18, no. 95, February 1911, p. 293.
[2] Maurice Denis’s Calypso, now known as Ulysses with Calypso (1905), was also acquired by the Ateneum. For details of works shown, see Anna Gruetzner Robins, ‘“Manet and the Post-Impressionists”: a checklist of exhibits’, The Burlington Magazine, December 2010, no. CLII, pp. 782–793.
[3] Ateneum Art Museum: A Selection from the International Collection (Helsinki: National Gallery of Finland, 2000). A search conducted on 17 September, 2015 of the Finnish National Gallery database listed 422 works as by British or part-British artists in the collection of the Ateneum, out of a total of 22,841 works – roughly 1.8%.
[4] In total, the database lists 4,999 works dated 1890–1965 that were acquired during the same period. Of this number, 3,803 are recorded as being by Finnish or part-Finnish artists, leaving 1,196 items in the collection made by artists from abroad or unclassified. The database lists 406 works by Swedish or part-Swedish artists, 355 works by French or part-French artists and 57 works by Russian or part-Russian artists made and acquired between 1890 and 1965.

Featured image: Alfred William Finch, Rainy Weather at Hampton Court, 1907, oil on canvas, 63cm x 79cm, Antell Collections, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Read More — Download ‘‘New relations, unsuspected harmonies’: Modern British Art in Finland, 1906–1964’ by Inga Fraser as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>

Conferences: Alice Neel and Portraits in Art

24 September 2016

This conference organised by the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery focuses specifically on paintings by Alice Neel, a masterful portrayer of people, while also discussing portraits and self-portraits in art in general. The venue of the conference will be the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

To view the programme of the upcoming conference, please visit

http://www.ateneum.fi/tapahtumat/alice-neel-seminaari/?lang=en

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 >>

 

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

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>

 


 

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 >>

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