Sunday, August 24, 2014

Work? (exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum)

Aimo Tukiainen: Hitsaaja / A Welder (1976). Bronze. Height 110 cm. Art Foundation Merita. Click to enlarge.
The Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations: Työtäkö? / Arbete? / Work? The changing images of work. From log driving to temping. Amos Andersonin taidemuseo | Amos Andersons konstmuseum | Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu | Georgsgatan 27, Helsinki. 11.4.2014–17.8.2015
    Oil paintings, watercolours, bronzes, screen prints, digital files, large-size cardboard cut-outs, installations, works on gouache, tempera, plaster, charcoal, photographs, magazine collections, clipping archives, and a film excerpt (Risto Jarva: Työmiehen päiväkirja / A Working-Man's Diary, starring the modern artist Paul Osipow).
    Visited on 24 Aug 2014

The official introduction: "Labour of love or forced labour? Hard work is its own reward – or is it? Amos Anderson Art Museum presents Work? an exhibition opening on 10 April that raises questions about the nature of Finnish work and its changing representations. Work as a concept has changed and it is this turning-point that is at the heart of the exhibition. In earlier decades Finnish work was often represented in art through depictions of lumbering, and log driving in particular. A log driver struggling with his load was a romantic and compositionally interesting figure. We have come a long way from driving logs along rivers; work in the 2010s is often independent of time and place. How does one portray the kind of work that cannot be reduced to a single dynamic pose that in most cases mainly involves staring into a computer screen? Visitors are encouraged to ponder their own relationship to work and the meaning/s of work in an age, when new jobs and job descriptions are constantly introduced while "traditional" jobs are becoming extinct."

"The Work? -exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum consists of historically important works from the member collections of the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations that depict labour. Some of the works combine the depiction of physical labour with the study of movement, while the suited members of the disreputable Wednesday Club, a group portrait by Aarne Nopsanen, appear frozen. On display are some 70 works by 31 artists: paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, video art as well as an installation."

"The change in how work is represented is also evident in the works selected: "Traditional" occupations have be depicted by Alvar Cawén, Pekka Halonen, Lennart Segerstråle, Felix Nylund and Juho Rissanen, while modern work is depicted in works by  Aino-Marjatta Mäki, Jaakko Karhunen, Tuomo Manninen, Meri Peura, Kalle Turakka-Purhonen, and Jussi Valtakari. Documentary photographs from the 1950s from the Finnish Labour Museum Werstas serve to complement the exhibition."

"The exhibition has been produced by the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations (STSY) and curated by Jyrki Siukonen, DFA and post-doc researcher." (the official introduction)

AA: The magnificent exhibitions based on the collections of the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations (STSY) have been among the most exhilarating surveys into the history of Finnish art in recent times. I have been especially fond of the four chronological exhibitions at Amos Anderson Art Museum put on display since 2007 and the accompanying wonderful SKS books. Many essential but hard-to-see works that belong to the art collections of mighty foundations were shown in contexts of inspired curatorial approaches.

Work? belongs to the same series of explorations. Now the approach is thematic, and there is bite in the vision of Jyrki Siukonen the curator. We witness the history of Finnish work starting with traditional hard work, often represented by cinematic lumberjacks captured by many key artists, even including a pop art style interpretation by Unto Pusa as late as 1960 when lumberjacks still existed but were rapidly vanishing.

We proceed to today's precariat - the MacJobs with low pay and no security in our post-industrial societies. Precariousness is hitting more and more severely even such recently lucrative fields as design and advertising. Works relevant to this theme include Jussi Valtakari's Feissari / Face-to-Face Fundraiser (sculpture from linden and watercolour, 2014). There is also an audio montage on today's dreary reality on the labour market.

Among the most startling works exhibited is Aarne Nopsanen's Keskiviikkokerho / The Wednesday Club (oil on canvas, 1959, 210x261 cm, UPM-Kymmene Cultural Foundation) showing the financial and political elite of Finland, including the President of the Republic. One could write a book on the painting. Depicted are some of the most important dramatis personae in the history of the republic, some of their stories reaching back to the period before the independence. It is an essential vision of power in Finnish art. There is a mystery in this painting which represents Capital in this exhibition about Work. How can such a chilling auto-portrait have been commissioned by the powers-that-be themselves?

It is refreshing to see classic works in a context like this. Alwar Caven's Kehtolaulu / Lullaby (1921, oil on canvas) belongs to the works displaying women's work. Juho Rissanen's Seppä / The Blacksmith (1907, oil on canvas) is powerful and elemental. Aimo Tukiainen's Hitsaaja / The Welder (1976, bronze) is an expression of the joy of work.

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