Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tove Jansson (centenary exhibition at Ateneum)

Tove Jansson: Mysterious Landscape, 1930s. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. © Tove Jansson Estate. Please click on the image to enlarge it!

Tove Jansson. Centenary exhibition
at Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, 14 March – 7 September 2014.

Tove Jansson vernissage at Ateneum, 13 March 2014
– introduction by Tuula Karjalainen
– opening speech by Jenni Haukio, spouse of the President of the Republic
– three Tove Jansson songs sung by Birgitta Ulfsson

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Tee työtä ja rakasta [Tove Jansson: Work and Love]. Helsinki: Tammi, 2013. (A book.)

Official intro: "To mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson (1914–2001), Ateneum will host a major centenary exhibition presenting Jansson’s impressive career as an artist, illustrator, political caricaturist, author and creator of the Moomin characters and stories."

"Ateneum’s exhibition covers all the periods in Jansson’s productive career, including her surrealistic paintings of the 1930s, modernist art of the 1950s and more abstract works in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as her satirical anti-war illustrations for the magazine Garm, her monumental paintings for public spaces, and of course her enormously popular and internationally renowned Moomin characters and stories."

"Other Finnish museums have been generous in lending works to Ateneum. The exhibition will feature major works from Tampere Art Museum’s considerable Jansson collection, including paintings, drawings and Moomin tableaux, as well as costumes on loan from the Theatre Museum that were used in the Moomin opera that debuted in 1974.The exhibition also includes many previously unseen works from private collections. The curator of the exhibition is Tuula Karjalainen, and the exhibition architecture is by Marjaana Kinnermä."

"Tove Jansson had many careers and many faces. As an artist she was not only multifaceted, but also extremely hard working. Most of Jansson’s paintings are landscapes, interiors and still lifes. Favourite themes are the sea and islands, which she depicts in all types of her artistic output. Jansson created art based on her own life, and real events and peoples can be found in her paintings. Portraits and especially self portraits form an interesting category in the artist’s abundant output; her self portraits reflect the freedom and independence that were so vital to the artist."

"The Moomins that Tove Jansson created during the war years represent a complete philosophy of life, and they are familiar to children and adults around the world. Although today the Moomins are best known from the Japanese animated films made in the 1980s and ‘90s, Jansson herself brought the Moomin characters to life in books much earlier. In addition to the illustrations and sketches for the Moomin stories, the exhibition will feature around twenty 3D tableaus, most of which Tove Jansson built together with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. The tales and adventures of the extended Moomin family really come to life in these tableaus."

"Tove Jansson was also a master of monumental paintings and compositions for large surfaces. She created murals for many public spaces throughout Finland, especially in the 1940s and ‘50s. Jansson adorned many of these narrative paintings with small glimpses of paradise. The main hall of Ateneum will display two large wall paintings originally made for Helsinki City Hall and now housed at the Swedish-language adult education centre Arbis: Party in the City and Party in the Countryside."

The exhibition at Ateneum is part of the official programme of the Tove Jansson centenary year: 

At home in the land of magic and the fairy-tale. Having seen Alexander Ptushko's Sampo yesterday this thought returned to my mind at Ateneum's Tove Jansson exhibition today.

It is even better than I expected. I had not realized that Tove Jansson's (1914–2001) scope was this wide. She learned to draw in her artist mother's arms before she could speak or walk, and she never stopped creating. (It is striking how fully Tove Jansson is already herself as a six-year-old girl in the bust sculpted by her father in 1920.) She was educated in several art schools in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Paris, and she enjoyed her versatility, from monumental murals to miniature vignettes.

Tuula Karjalainen points out that Jansson had many full careers: as a painter, as a writer, as an illustrator, a caricaturist, a comic strip artist, an art director, a playwright, and a poet.

This richness is reflected both in the Ateneum exhibition and in Karjalainen's book.

Jansson's Moomin stories have tens of millions of fans around the world. England and Japan are countries with a special affection to them, perhaps because they are islands, and the sea is a strong presence in Jansson's world?

The full Moomin story is on display here: the genesis during the Winter War 1939–1940, the breakthrough in the 1950s, the many incarnations on tv, in the radio, in the theatre, in the opera, and in fairy-tale theme constructions. This exhibition is a family affair.

But there is much more than that. We follow Jansson's entire artistic journey starting with childhood and schooltime drawings. She really loved Matisse and the impressionists, but was also briefly influenced by surrealism in the 1930s. From her father, the sculptor Victor Jansson, Tove learned that art is a serious calling, and that calling was always supreme for her.

One of the most striking passages in Karjalainen's book is about the triumph of abstract informalism in the 1950s. In the annual exhibition of the Finnish Artists' Association in 1961 Jansson was the only naturalist left. Then even she succumbed to abstraction, giving in to peer pressure.

As a painter Jansson created some of her best work already in the 1930s, such as the Mysterious Landscape (above). She kept evolving constantly. There was no single Tove Jansson style. But there are certain characteristics. She was a master of an expressive line. She loved colour, the brightness of which the book's reproductions do not convey. There is the paradise theme, of which the Moomin valley is the best-known expression. There is an innate sense of enchantment: surrealism, paradise themes, fairy-tale images, and magic touches are expressions of it.

Tove Jansson belongs to the great artists of the comic strip.

There is a lot to discover in the exhibition. The monumental murals are awesome. The political caricatures from the 1930s and the 1940s have bite. Jansson lambasted mercilessly both Stalin and Hitler.

Jansson was a prolific painter, and never before has there been as comprehensive an exhibition as this. The works on display have been borrowed from over a hundred different sources. Jansson's paintings from the 1960s and the 1970s are exhilarating displays of colour. Having definitely stopped making comic strips in the 1950s she now revelled in pure paint and pure colour.

Also her most profound books she wrote after having stopped grinding those comic strips.

Karjalainen's book is an excellent companion to the exhibition. It is the story of "work and love", according to Jansson's own motto, in this order, always inseparable. It is also the story of a woman who mingled with radical Leftists when their parties were banned, whose best friends were Jewish during the Holocaust, and who, with her companion Tuulikki Pietilä, was the first same-sex couple to attend the Independence Day Reception of the President of Finland (the most prominent official annual event in our land) (in 1992) (in Finland homosexual acts were illegal until 1971 and homosexuality was classified as an illness until 1981). She never made a big deal of that, and neither did the media.

Karjalainen discusses five important love affairs in Tove Jansson's life: with Sam Vanni (his portrait of Tove Jansson is inside this blog note), Tapio Tapiovaara, Atos Wirtanen, Vivica Bandler, and Tuulikki Pietilä. A deep friendship always remained after the love relationship ended. But the greatest love of all was with her mother.

PS. Film-related. Tove Jansson declined co-operation with both Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki. She protected the artistic integrity of the Moomin world, and she was upset by the breaches against it in the first anime project.

Tove Jansson and Sam Vanni belonged to the Projektio film society, where Jansson may have seen Un chien andalou, among other films. The chairman was Alvar Aalto, and the same people who founded Artek were also active in Projektio. The Tapiovaara brothers also belonged to Projektio, and Jansson designed a film poster for Nyrki Tapiovaara (Kaksi Vihtoria).

It was a thrill to see the portrait (1939) of Maya Vanni (Maya London) / / ( מאיה לונדון) / / (1916-2010) in the Tove Jansson exhibition in a painting inspired by Paul Gauguin, another expression of Tove Jansson's quest for paradise. I knew Maya Vanni in the 1980s when she was our translator to Swedish. Among other things, she was a gifted film translator (to Swedish at least). In 1992 she moved to Jerusalem for the rest of her life.

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