Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Sigurd Frosterus Collection: Art as an Attitude (an exhibition)

Paul Signac: Seine, Grenelle (1899), oil on canvas, 62 x 78,5 cm. Amos Anderson Art Museum - The Sigurd Frosterus Collection. Photo: Stella Ojala / AAM. Click to enlarge.
Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu 27, Helsinki.

Official introduction:

Art as an Attitude
The Sigurd Frosterus Collection
| Oct 2, 2015-2017

"The exhibition Art as an Attitude opens to the public on Friday, October 2, 2015, at the Amos Anderson Art Museum. This year is the 100th anniversary of the debut showing of architect Sigurd Frosterus’s post-impressionist art collection at the Ateneum. The Sigurd Frosterus Foundation has chosen to mark the occasion with an extensive exhibition of the Frosterus collection and of the life of this unique art collector. Frosterus [1876-1956], who was known also as an art critic, inspired numerous Finnish artists with his art theories and criticism. Among the most prominent were A. W. Finch (1854–1930), Magnus Enckell (1870–1925), Verner Thomé (1878–1953) and Sigrid Schauman (1877–1930)."

"Of central importance was Frosterus’s conception of art and its reflection in his art collection. The common thread running through the collection is Colourism and the interaction between pure and earthy, mixed colours. The core of the exhibition is the Frosterus collection itself, which was deposited at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in 1994. The exhibition has been augmented with artworks that over the years were removed from the collection, including Tyko Sallinen’s The Barn Dance (1917–1923), Verner Thomé’s In Borély Park (1909) and A. W. Finch’s Decorative Panel (1910) from public and private collections. The museum’s second-floor space for temporary displays will offer visitors a selection of works by Magnus Enckell, an artist who was close to Frosterus. The first display features family portraits that Frosterus commissioned from Enckell in 1909–10 and 1918. The second display focuses on Magnus Enckell’s monumental painting Man and Swan from the collections of the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation."

"Sigurd Frosterus’s thoughts on colour theory were published as essays and books, and his art collection was shown in museums, galleries and magazines. The museum carries on the collector’s work by offering the public a wide range of opportunities to expand its knowledge of colour and colourist art. Free workshops for schoolgoers will provide an introduction to colour theory and a chance to make colour experiments. An activities’ room on the second floor will encourage visitors of all ages to study colour with the help of self-guided tasks."

"A documentary film, produced by Franck Media, on the original and sometimes contradictory personality that was Sigurd Frosterus will be shown on the second floor. The exhibition catalogue, published by the Finnish Literature Society in Finnish, Swedish and English, contains articles by Kimmo Sarje, Susanna Aaltonen and Itha O’Neill."

"The museum will hold evening events for the public on topics such as art collecting, Colourism, and inspiration. The series will begin with the former director of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, Björn Springfeldt, and art collector Lars Johnson who will discuss art collecting on Wednesday, October 7 at 5 p.m."

Guided tours for the public in Swedish on Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and in Finnish on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.

Curator: Itha O´Neill

The catalogue:
Itha O'Neill (ed.): Sigurd Frosterus. Art as an Attitude. 176 p. Printed in Livonia Print, Riga. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society / Sigurd Frosterus Stiftelse / Amos Anderson Art Museum, 2015.
    Published in three editions: in Finnish, Swedish, and English.
    Contents include: - Itha O'Neill: "Art as an Attitude". - Susanna Aaltonen: "In the Homes of Emmy and Sigurd Frosterus - Legacy, Chance, Luck". - Kimmo Sarje: "Sigurd Frosterus - The Leading Rational Modernist of the Nordic Countries?". - List of works: the Sigurd Frosterus Collection (with illustrations on each item).

AA: This beautiful exhibition is special because it is consistently based on the collection of one collector and because that collector had a strong and coherent concept.

That concept is colour. This exhibition, and this collection, are based on colour. They are colour-driven. The exhibition is a display of colour and colourism, usually as oils on canvas. The paintings look good in the excellent catalog which I have read many times. But they really shine and radiate in the exhibition itself. The paintings have been hung with good taste. They seem to display a Sigurd Frosterus effect in that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. The paintings reinforce each other. The colour world grows into a special form of existence.

There is a special affection with warm colour. Orange is overwhelming, and there are striking reds, as well. Frosterus loves also green and purple.

Frosterus loves figurative images, but he does not care for realism. Reality is a springboard for colour. Frosterus has a penchant for lyrical pointillism. His true interest is in pure colourism.

Re-thinking about this exhibition in November I understand Frosterus even better. Finland from October till February is a dark and dull place visually. We fight against it in many ways. Christmas is the most important of them. Gallery exhibitors and cinema owners know that we need to display warmth and colour during these months. So did Frosterus.

Sigurd Frosterus I know best, as do many Finns, from two of his best-loved architectural creations: the Stockmann department store, and the Tamminiemi villa.

From Pekka Tarkka's seminal introduction to the history of the essay in Finnish literature (in Suomen kirjallisuus VIII) I was aware of Frosterus as a cultural essayist who was ahead of his time, discussing the same topics as the Frankfurt School but decades earlier. Tarkka states that Frosterus was an "intuitive structuralist", interested in the movements of the crowds in big cities. He saw affinities in them with trajectories of machines and ornaments of nature. As a philosopher of modernity Frosterus was a contemporary of Georg Simmel. Walter Benjamin was also interested in department stores, but the difference is that Frosterus not only analyzed them but also designed one (and remained a consultant to the Stockmann department store for the rest of his life). Frosterus was also a quarter of a century ahead of the Finnish modernist jazz age Tulenkantajat (Torchbearers) movement in Finland (Olavi Paavolainen, Mika Waltari, et al). His insights also have affinities with Roland Barthes.

"Art is no longer an Eden fenced by German aesthetic theory but a function of all fluctuating expressions of life. Art is no longer a play and entertainment for idle hedonists; it penetrates even the grayest details of everyday life." (from Frosterus's essay on the Wertheim department store in Berlin as quoted by Pekka Tarkka)

Sigurd Frosterus was an aesthete. Art was the most central content of his life. But he was not an elitist. As an architect and designer he was a partisan of art for everybody. There is an affinity in his thinking with futurism. He loved H. G. Wells. He saw art in a locomotive, a railway bridge and electric commercial signs and was an advocate of "intelligent decoration". He was directly influenced by Henry van de Velde in Weimar, and more indirectly also by the English Arts & Crafts movement. His friend A. W. Finch also mediated those influences. There is an explicit continuity from Frosterus to Alvar Aalto and Maire Gullichsen (the Artek school).

Frosterus lived in the film age but he seems to have been hardly interested in the cinema (in contrast to Alvar Aalto who was a serious film buff as are many Finnish architects since). Cinema was not black and white in the silent era but its colour concepts were not ones that would have been expressive enough for Frosterus. For that one would have had to wait until the 1950s. Theoretically it would have been possible for Frosterus to see colour films by Vincente Minnelli and George Cukor in the 1950s. Certainly he would have loved Lust for Life and Bhowani Junction, both released in the year Frosterus died.

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