Alvar Aalto’s organic design idiom developed in interaction with contemporary visual artists

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 to feature four halls of visual art by Aalto’s artist friends

The Ateneum will bring 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 will feature 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.

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form | 11 May–24 Sept 2017

Events related to the exhibition
Admission is included in the museum entrance fee or with a Museum card. More information: > Events

THU 11 MAY, 13:00 | A curator’s tour of the exhibition: Jochen Eisenbrand, Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition halls. In English.

14 May–18 Jun | Alvar Aalto featured at the Orion cinema. Alvar Aalto was the passionate chairman of Projektio, Finland’s first film society, which was active between 1934 and 1936. For more information on the film screenings at Orion, see: (in Finnish)

WED 17 MAY, 17:00–17:45 | Lecture on Alvar Aalto: Ville Suhonen and Jari Sedergren. Ateneum Hall. The Projektio film society, Alvar Aalto and film censorship. In Finnish.

WED 24 MAY, 17:00–17:45 | Lecture on Alvar Aalto: Museum director Susanna Pettersson. Ateneum Hall. Alvar Aalto, Artek and visual arts. In Finnish.

THU 24 AUG, 13:00–17:00 | Conference: Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ateneum Hall. The conference will dig deeper into the themes of the exhibition. In Finnish and English. In cooperation with: Alvar Aalto Foundation.

SAT 9 SEP, 12:00–15:00 | Conference: Aino Marsio-Aalto as a designer. Ateneum Hall. The conference will offer perspectives on the work of Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto. In Finnish. In cooperation with: Alvar Aalto Foundation.

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