Friday, July 13, 2012

Retretti 2012

Retretti Art Center, Punkaharju, Friday 13 July 2012.

A visit to Retretti Art Center is an ideal way to spend a rainy day.

Retretti's underground cave complex may have never been put to better use. Around 30 modern Finnish artists are on display, and the curator of the exhibition, Marketta Haila, has succeeded very well in creating a consistent total experience in which there is plenty of room for the individual artworks, some of them unique for this exhibition only. There are many familiar names for cinéastes such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Cleaning Women, Veli Granö, Seppo Renvall, Salla Tykkä, and Roi Vaara. Kaija Saariaho's composition Lichtbogen is combined with the sound of the aurora borealis and the visual music by Jean-Baptiste Barrière. Among the grand designs are Charles Sandison's Red and White and Cleaning Women's apocalyptic and effective Q4: The Last Quarter Year.

A well-considered Retretti tradition is to exhibit the best-loved classic works of Finnish art in new contexts, discovering unknown works along the best-known ones. Tyko Sallinen's key works are the well-known ones this year. Curated by Ulla Vihanta, the "Jytkyt Retretissä: Tyko Sallinen ja villit ekspressionistit" exhibition puts them into the context of his generation of the wild and bohemian Expressionists of the 1910s: Jalmari Ruokokoski, Valle Rosenberg, Alvar Cawén, William Lönnberg, Eemu Myntti, Eero Nelimarkka, and Juho Mäkelä. Another context is that we get to see different versions of Sallinen's key subjects side by side. A yet another context is that of history: that the background of two of Sallinen's famous paintings, Jytkyt [The Barn Dance, 1918] and Hihhulit [The Religious Fanatics, 1918] was our tragic Civil War.

Tyko Sallinen has a special impact on me. When I first saw a Tyko Sallinen exhibition, his centenary exhibition at Taidehalli, Helsinki, in March 1979, I experienced for the first time something that was close to the Stendhal syndrome. This impact I only experience at the oil paintings themselves when I can see them without reflecting glasses.

I cannot relate to most official introductions of Tyko Sallinen; they seem to miss the point. I happened to hear something of the exhibition guide's account, too, and it distracted and distanced me from the paintings. The current Tyko Sallinen reception emphasizes his terrible conduct with his wife, the talented Helmi Vartiainen. The exhibition starts with a series of Tyko Sallinen's expressionist portraits of his wife in which he abandons realistic representation. Instead, creatures from the world of instincts emerge.

But even the visions from the world of instincts are not the point. Beyond the instincts Sallinen conveys a deep spirituality. Natural forms are grotesquely deformed and defamiliarized to lead us to a journey to the beyond.

Sallinen was a desperate creature like Vincent Van Gogh, and there is a sense of urgency in his best work. These paintings were a matter of life and death for him. His oeuvre is a tragic journey.

The Taidehalli 1979 experience of Tyko Sallinen still remains definitive for me. The Retretti 2012 experience is more analytical and distanced, even condemning. Certain key works are impossible to assess because of the reflective glasses, but of the great majority the naked surface was on display. Breathtaking. After the exhibition I had to digest what I'd seen and recover in the garden.

A film-related comment: although expressionism was a significant trend in Finnish art a hundred years ago, there was no expressionistic Finnish cinema at the time. Finnish cinema was conventional for decades.

Retretti exhibition catalogues have been of great and permanent value. This year, in the current economical situation, no catalogue was published, unfortunately.

The restaurant space has been leased this year to SIS. Deli+Café which has more ambition and a better menu than the entrepreneurs of recent years. There is a good buffet lunch with local season's products.


Anton Asikainen said...

An especially wonderful essay even by your standards. Question: are there any references to Sallinen's life story or his work in the Finnish cinema?

Antti Alanen said...

Hello Anton, none that I would remember.