Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form (an exhibition)

Fernand Léger: Musical Instruments, 1926. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen. The colours of this reproduction are a bit off. Please do click on the images to enlarge them.

Tapio Tapiovaara: Fernand Léger Lecturing in Helsinki, 1937. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

László Moholy-Nagy: Kestnermappe, no. 6, 1923. Private collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/ Jenni Nurminen

László Moholy-Nagy, photographed by Aino Aalto, 1931

Alvar Aalto: Finnish pavilion, World’s Fair, New York, 1939. © Esto Photographics. Photo: Ezra Stoller / Esto Photographics Inc.

Alvar Aalto in his boat, Nemo Propheta in Patria, 1960s. © Christine and Göran Schildt Foundation. Photo: Göran Schildt

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form / Alvar Aalto – taide ja moderni muoto / Alvar Aalto – konsten och den moderna formen / Алвар Аалто – искусство и современная форма
    Ateneum Art Museum, 11 May–24 Sept 2017
    The exhibition has been produced by Vitra Design Museum in collaboration with Alvar Aalto Museum and Ateneum Art Museum.
    Chief curator: Jochen Eisenbrand.
    Based on a touring exhibition shown previously at Vitra Design Museum, Madrid, Barcelona, and Aalborg.
    Viewed at the press conference, 10 May 2017.

The book to the touring exhibition:
    Alvar Aalto Second Nature. Ed. Mateo Kries, Jochen Eisenbrand. Hardcover. Two editions: German and English. Hardcover. 688 p. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2014.

The book to the Ateneum exhibition:
    Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ed. Sointu Fritze. Three editions: Finnish, Swedish, and English. Paperback. 105 p. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2017.

The Ateneum press release: "Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is the most internationally famous Finnish architect and designer. Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form will open up new perspectives into Aalto's life and work. The comprehensive exhibition will illustrate how Aalto's thinking and design idiom developed in interaction with contemporary visual artists. In addition to presenting Aalto's extensive oeuvre, works will also be featured from his close friends and modernist masters, such as the American Alexander Calder and the Frenchman Fernand Léger. The exhibition also highlights the role of the Artek furniture and design company, established in 1935, as a contributor to the Finnish art scene. The exhibition is produced by the Vitra Design Museum, in cooperation with the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Ateneum Art Museum.

Alvar Aalto was one of the most influential figures in international modernism.

"Alvar Aalto's work showed a broad understanding of the arts. His circle of acquaintances included a large number of people who were agents of change in their time and who sought new forms of expression. We want to highlight these connections. The Ateneum is a house for all artistic disciplines: the facade of the museum building features caryatides, carved in 1887, symbolising architecture, geometry, painting and sculpture", says the museum director, Susanna Pettersson.

Aalto was a fully-fledged cosmopolitan with a global network of contacts: he and his wife, the architect Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), were internationally active, starting in the 1920s. The idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, was important to Aalto: he worked across multiple disciplines, including architecture, urban planning, design, and art.

Assembled by the chief curator of the Vitra Design Museum, Jochen Eisenbrand, the retrospective exhibition will present Aalto's life and work from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition will feature a wealth of iconic objects and pieces of furniture, as well as architectural drawings and scale models. Interdisciplinarity in art, and Aalto's multi-disciplinarity, will be highlighted through archive materials, works of art, photographs and short films. The exhibition will also feature new photographs of Aalto's architecture, taken by the German photographic artist Armin Linke. Before arriving in Helsinki, the exhibition was shown at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany; in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; and in Aalborg in Denmark.

The Ateneum exhibition features four halls of visual art by Aalto's artist friends.

The Ateneum brings another perspective to the exhibition with the inclusion of works by artists closest to Aalto, including the German-French Hans Arp (1886–1966), the American Alexander Calder (1898–1976), the Frenchman Fernand Léger (1881–1955), and the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). The exhibition features a large number of works from Villa Mairea, a private residence in Noormarkku that Aalto designed for Maire Gullichsen and her husband. Most of the works to be shown at the exhibition were originally introduced to Finland through art exhibitions organised by Artek, and through people in Aalto's inner circle. Artek's exhibitions left a permanent imprint on the Finnish art world and on the Ateneum Art Museum's collection.

Produced by the Ateneum, the publication Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form discusses Artek's exhibition activities and highlights the life's work of Aino Marsio-Aalto in the arenas of art, design and architecture. Edited by the chief curator, Sointu Fritze, the publication will feature articles by Jochen Eisenbrand, Susanna Pettersson, and Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. The publication will be available in Finnish, Swedish and English.
" The Ateneum press release

AA: Alvar Aalto's timeless architecture and design has been showcased in prominent exhibitions and catalogues over the decades.

A new twist in the Ateneum exhibition is a focus on the Aalto couple's artistic network in modernism with special departments dedicated to four artists: Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, and László Moholy-Nagy. The works displayed are mainly from Finnish collections, a legacy of the long term work of the Artek Gallery in exhibiting and dealing art. Artek-based samples of Gauguin, Picasso, Degas, etc. are also on display.

Alvar Aalto himself always emphasized his partnership with his architect wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), but in the tradition of solo male artist worship many tributes have neglected her. In this exhibition Aino Aalto's contribution is more prominent than traditionally, starting from a brilliant photo montage slideshow with superimpositions. Aino Aalto was, among many other things, a distinguished photographer inspired by László Moholy-Nagy.

Jochen Eisenbrand writes that Alvar Aalto was inspired by Goethe's humanistic calling based on a knowledge of languages which enabled him constantly to "go beyond himself" and establish an international "family" from the solid ground of his homeland.

Alvar Aalto experienced the ordeals of WWI (in the bloody civil war aftermath in which he participated), the great depression, fascism, WWII, and the Cold War. His version of modernism was a counter-image to these terrors. Based on human values, the Aaltos' calling was to bring technology back to the people, with a sense of the natural form. There is a sense of the organic in their work. And a touch of sensuality in the signature curvilinear forms.

Proudly Finnish, the Aaltos relished the friendship of their large international network. There is a feeling of a love affair in the oeuvre. And a feelgood atmosphere in the jigsaw puzzle of the exhibition. For Aalto architecture was the trunk from which other visual arts branched out, and in this exhibition this concept is realized beautifully.

One of a handful of the internationally best known Finns, Alvar Aalto has always been much more highly valued abroad than in his home country. Acknowledging this he called his boat Nemo Propheta in Patria – "No prophet in his hometown".

Having seen the show I immediately started to read the weighty international catalogue of the touring exhibition and was especially impressed with the insight in the philosophy of history in Eeva-Maija Pelkonen's essay "Symbolic Imageries: Alvar Aalto's Encounters with Modern Art", making sense of Aalto's development from symbolism to abstraction.

In the Finnish catalogue special delights include Susanna Pettersson's exploration of the impact of the Artek Gallery in the Finnish art world and Sointu Fritze's portraits of Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, and László Moholy-Nagy, with rare illustrations.

We participate at Cinema Orion with a film series dedicated to Filmistudio Projektio. Alvar Aalto was the chairman and dynamo of the first Finnish film society in 1934–1936 and thus the grandfather of the Finnish film societies and festivals and the Finnish Film Archive. I have posted a blog entry on Projektio three years ago.

Hans Arp: Torso (Feuille / Leaf), 1959 (based on a collage from 1941). Portfolio of silk-screen prints 75/75, Éditions Denise René, Paris. Mairea Foundation. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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