By Karen MacKenna, November 2014
With the esteemed Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and Helsinki Art Museum closed for renovations, and with no Guggenheim (at least not yet), we set out to discover some of the city’s other gems.
A tour of Helsinki’s art museums can offer a view into the Finnish soul. The influence of nature, the sounds of silence and a pioneering spirit form essential elements of artistic expression in Finland.
Many of these museums are within walking distance of each other downtown, while others are easily accessible by tram or bus.
The Didrichsen Art Museum, a privately run museum located in the leafy suburb of Kuusisaari (Spruce Island), sits atop a wooded hill, its modernist structure blending into the natural surroundings.
It offers an ideal setting for the sculpture garden that encircles it. Jenni Tieaho’s Adrift, a woven replica of a Viking ship, appears to be decaying into organic matter before your eyes. Matti Peltokangas’s Strange rain last night includes stone spheres scattered onto the grass.
Designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell to house the collection of Marie Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen, the museum first opened to the public in 1965. It recently reopened after renovations, drawing crowds with an Edvard Munch exhibition, The Dance of Life (through February 1, 2015).
Munch’s oil paintings become astonishingly intimate in this small space, but I’m most taken with the lithographs. A close look at The Sea of Love, first printed in 1896 in Paris, reveals a love story for the ages.
The Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) is located in The WeeGee Exhibition Centre just west of Helsinki. Originally a printing house, the building was renovated and opened to the public in 2006. It invites the surrounding woods inside through a wall of windows.
In Antony Gormley’s Two Times, two life-sized male sculptures stand several feet apart and stare out toward the trees. I follow their gaze in an attempt to see what they see.
The museum’s literature states that one of the unifying themes behind the foundation’s collection is the desire to study humanity. I think about this when I come across the Risto Suomi’s High Tide -- a thin line disappearing into the horizon. In Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen’s Wave Form, a series of magnetic particles moves with the tides. Mimmo Paladino’s Fall for a reason depicts a person who is being consumed by birds. I’m reminded that nothing is permanent.
Temporary exhibitions include Hungarian-born Victor Vasarely’s Optical Paintings. The pioneer of optical art described his work as “kinetic.” The effect is dizzying, and can be seen through November 11, 2015. Horizontal, by Finland’s most famous video artist, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, is showing from November 19, 2014 to February 22, 2015, while Events in Nature “calls into question our relationship with nature” until March 22, 2015.
Its Finnish name translates to “Photographic Art Museum,” which, when it opened 1969, indicated the founders’ desire to show photography as a serious art form. Located at Cable Factory, a cultural centre in a former industrial complex on Helsinki’s west shore, the museum displays Finnish and foreign works. It also functions as a research facility, with an archive containing more than 3.7 million photos.
There are several exhibitions running concurrently, but my eyes move immediately to a mountain of photos in the middle of an empty room. #Snapshot (until January 18, 2015) evokes nostalgia – I pick up a handful from the pile and there is a woman in her wedding dress, a child riding a rocking horse and a woman squinting into the sun. It also comments on a culture where the explosion of digital photography in everyday life might fracture our memories permanently.
The exhibition uses snapshots and interactive installations, and presents artwork by Catherine Balet, Erik Kessels, Niklas Kullström and Sisse Stroyer.
The 140-year-old Design Museum’s is located in a beautiful building in the centre of Helsinki, in the city’s Design District.
It houses the history of Finnish design from pioneers such as Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck to contemporary designers Stefan Lindfors and Harri Koskinen. Within these walls dwells the story of how a small country came to be a trailblazer in design and applied art.
The collections trace the ideology behind Finnish design – how functionalism and aestheticism met to create beautiful everyday objects, and how nature is represented in the form and material of Finnish design.
Finnish design is made to last, and its appeal stands the test of time. Many of the items here are still being produced. I am particularly taken with the artful simplicity of Kaj Franck’s glass tumblers. I have collected many of them myself over the years.
Ceramics and Space, an exhibition of contemporary Finnish ceramics that explores both the history of Finnish ceramic art and its relevance in today’s world, runs until January 11, 2015.
Around the corner from the Design Museum is the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
Decades of Finnish Architecture 1900–1970 (on display till the end of 2020) explores 20th-century Finnish architecture and how it developed in response to the times. Take a look at architect Matti Suuronen’s Future House from 1968. Designed as a ski cabin, it looks like a spaceship. After the oil crisis in 1973, the cost of its plastic building material became prohibitive and the project never took off.
Annual Rings 1994–2014: A New Generation of Wood Architecture, a joint exhibition with Aalto University (until January 25, 2015), spans the last two decades of wood architecture in Finland. The Minimal Living Unit, Heinola2003–2004, struck me as being ahead of its time. This “small house” was designed as a fully functional living space of less than six square meters (64 square feet). In another room students have carved out their own variations on Alvar Aalto’s famous Stool 60.
Amos Anderson, a prominent newspaper publisher and entrepreneur, had this house built in 1913 as his private home.
The permanent collection focuses on 20th-century Finnish art and also displays Anderson’s personal living quarters, including a chapel on the top floor. He was a religious man who would sometimes play the organ for his guests. It is said that he loved to sing, too, but he felt he did not have the voice for a church choir, so he would sing when there was no one around to hear him.
The temporary exhibitions present both Finnish and international artists, and the museum does not shy away from controversy. A recent show displayed an army of small, strange clay figures by Tommi Toija. Toija gained notoriety with the 8.5-meter-tall Bad Bad Boy, a sculpture and also a fountain that “urinated” into the water beside Helsinki’s Market Square all autumn in 2014, raising more than a few eyebrows.
Oil paintings by the bold Finnish artist Anita Snellman, who divided her time between Finland and Spain, are on show until January 12, 2015. They include a range of self-portraits that help viewers follow the development of her career.
See also on thisisFINLAND
Rate this article:
average: 0 / total: 0