Saturday, April 02, 2016

Suomen taiteen tarina / Stories of Finnish Art (a new display of the permament collection of Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery)

Alexander Lauréus: Fire in a Farmhouse at Night, 1809. Oil on canvas. 52 x 44. Ateneum Art Museum A I 3. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Salon hanging at the portrait gallery at the Ateneum exhibition Stories of Finnish Art, 2016. Photo: Jenni Nurminen.

Hugo Simberg: Towards the Evening, 1913. Oil on canvas, 162 x 95. A recent aquisition. Atenem Art Museum A-2015-169. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.

Greta Hällfors Sipilä, St. John’s Church. (ca 1918). Oil on canvas. 73,5 x 66,5. A-1991-46. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Hannu Aaltonen. The colour is brighter in the original. It looks better in the catalogue.
Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait with Red Spot, 1944. Oil on canvas, 45 x 37. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation. A IV 3744. The red spot is brighter in the original. Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery.

Suomen taiteen tarina / Historier inom finsk konst / Stories of Finnish Art. A new display of the permanent collection of Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery. Opened 18 March 2016. Rooms covering the 1950s and 1960s open in the autumn of 2016.
    A touch screen display of Helene Schjerfbeck’s paper works forms part of the exhibition.
    The exhibition team includes Susanna Pettersson, Museum Director; Timo Huusko, Chief Curator, Collections; Anu Utriainen, Curator; Erkki Anttonen, Special Researcher, Collections; Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Archive and Library Manager; and Riitta Ojanperä, Collections Management Director. The imaginative and memorable exhibition architecture has been created by Marcel Schmalgemeijer from the Netherlands and the spatial graphic design by Mariëlle Tolenaar.

The catalogue:
Suomen taiteen tarina / Historier inom finsk konst / Stories of Finnish Art. Three editions: Finnish, Swedish and English. Editor: Susanna Pettersson.
    Articles by Susanna Pettersson, Anu Utriainen, Juha Itkonen, Erkki Anttonen, Riitta Ojanperä, Timo Huusko, Hanna-Leena Paloposki, and Maritta Mellais.
    Short stories by Riikka Ala-Harja, Juha Itkonen, Heidi Köngäs, Sirpa Kähkönen, and Matti Rönkä.
    264 p., fully illustrated, translated by Lola Rogers and Wif Stenger. Published by Ateneum Art Museum (Helsinki) and Hatje Cantz Verlag (Ostfildern, Germany). Printed in Wernding, Firmengruppe APPL, aprinta druck, 2016.

From the official introduction: "The exhibition presents well-loved classics alongside seldom exhibited works of art – it is an exhibition of classics with a twist. The exhibition is a celebration of Ateneum’s collections: it draws new parallels and highlights works that have not been on show for a long time. The extensive collection of archive materials is also given new prominence. At the same time, the story of Finnish art is juxtaposed with the international development in art and contemporary social events."

"In the main exhibition space, Eero Järnefelt’s Burning the Brushwood (1893) meets Edvard Munch’s Bathing Men (1907–1908) and Anders Zorn’s Girls Bathing in the Open Air (1890) and Ilya Repin’s Portrait of Natalia Nordmann (1900), both masterpieces that have long remained out of sight of audiences. Part of the exhibition is a tightly packed salon-style hanging, similar to the one used in Ateneum a hundred years ago."

"Featuring 322 works, this first phase of the exhibition now opening illustrates the development of art in Finland from 1809 until the 1940s. The rooms covering the 1950s and 1960s will open in the summer of 2016."

AA: The exhibition of a permanent collection of a national gallery is always useful as a crash course into a nation's art. Visiting such an exhibition is a good standard number for a foreign visitor, and it should be an exciting initiation to art for children and students.

The new Ateneum display fulfills these expectations admirably. The Fighting Capercaillies by Ferdinand von Wright, Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood) by Eero Järnefelt, Kullervo's Curse by Axel Gallen-Kallela, A Child's Funeral in the Archipelago by Albert Edelfelt, The Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg, St. John's Church by Greta Hällfors-Sipilä, and self-portraits by Helene Schjerfbeck are all here. Works like these are essential reference points in Finnish visual culture.

But many of the works on display are unusual and different from received traditions of the permanent collections.

I started my visit from the portrait gallery which is itself a revelation and reminder of an original mission of the Ateneum Art Museum purposefully to collect an official national portrait gallery. There are many self-portraits by artists here, as well as portraits by fellow artists.

The other revelation is the salon hanging which means that many walls are packed with paintings. They are tightly hung next to each other, and there are two or three paintings on top of each other.

The impact of salon hanging is of abundance, and there is also a collage effect as inevitably one starts to see connections between the paintings: sometimes affinities, sometimes contrasts, and anything in between.

The main current here is the development of Finnish art from 1809 until the 1940s, but there are also selections of the international collections, including soul brothers from neighbouring countries such as Ilya Repin from Russia, Anders Zorn from Sweden and Edvard Munch from Norway. Also treasures from van Gogh, Gauguin, Rodin, Matisse, Cézanne, Modigliani, Léger, and Le Corbusier are on display. The main influence for Finnish art has always been Paris, prominently in evidence here.

The catalogue is worth reading from cover to cover. Not all the exhibited artworks are among the illustrations, and not all the pictures in the book are to be seen in the exhibition. The book is a good concise introduction into Finnish art and the history of Ateneum which in the beginning also included spaces for The Finnish Society of Crafts and Design (1875, nowadays Design Forum Finland), and the art school (1848, now the Academy of Fine Arts). A special feature of the book is the five short stories commissioned for it. For example Sirpa Kähkönen's fictional monologue for Helene Schjerfbeck is worth reading.

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