STORIES OF FINNISH ART
The exhibition showcases the most beloved works of art in the Ateneum’s collections, showing them in a new light. Highlighting new works and drawing new parallels, it also illuminates their connections to both Finnish and world history. Alongside the artworks, the exhibition also includes a good deal of background material, especially in the space next to Gallery 6.
The exhibition is mounted in exhibition Gallerys on the second floor of the museum and in the main gallery on the second-level mezzanine. The exhibition continues on the ground floor under the theme of Modernism and featuring art from the 1950s and ‘60s.
There are altogether about 370 works. Each Gallery has its own theme, which is explained in the wall texts. There is also additional information regarding 60 individual works in the galleries. This introductory text is based on the wall texts.
The exhibition occupies all the display areas on the second floor of the museum, covering a total of nine Gallerys and interconnecting corridors. The Gallerys and the corridors form a rectangular route through the exhibition. If you use a wheelchair or a walker, you can start in Gallery 6 or in the main Gallery 13. There is a new elevator close to the main Gallery.
This tour starts from Gallery 6 on the second level, which is the corridor near the lift. The tour takes you in a clockwise direction through the exhibition. If you complete the entire round, you will find the last works on the tour in Gallery 19, a narrow corridor before the bridge on the second level. You can continue the tour on the ground floor where art from the 1950s and ‘60s is on display.
Galleries 6 and 7 Theme: ARTISTS
Opened in 1888, the Ateneum building has always been a house of artists. People have created, studied and experienced art in it from the beginning. The museum’s collection of art originated with the work of the Finnish Art Society, founded in 1846, which began acquiring artists’ portraits of themselves and of other artists. The aim of the Art Society was to demonstrate that art and culture play an important role in Finnish society.
In the decades following Finnish independence, the self-portrait became an increasingly important instrument for examining oneself and one’s work. The collections at Ateneum include both self-portraits and portraits in different media up to the 1970s.
Information about Galleries 6 and 7:
The long corridor running parallel to the wall of the building that faces Railway Square has a Salon-style hanging on the left-hand side: it is a dense gallery of portraits and self-portraits consisting of 72 paintings and 13 sculptures or reliefs. Two of the sculptures at the end of the corridor may be touched by visually impaired visitors wearing vinyl gloves provided by the museum. More information about touchable sculptures is available at the info desk.
Gallery 8, Echoes of War
The 1940s in Europe were severely distinguished by war. Finland fought three wars during this period: the Winter War (1939–1940), the Continuation War (1941–1944) and the Lapland War (1944–1945). Artists spotlighted the threats and anxieties generated by the conflicts, and material shortages continued for a long time even after the war.
As a counterpoint to empty streets and silent towns, artists also depicted scenes such as riotous living and parties and objects such as exotic fruit and colourful flowers. Belief in a better future was reflected in the reconstruction of towns and roads. Clowns and fools in art demonstrate the existence of a vitality and optimism that bubbles up even from beneath deep wounds.
Gallery 9, Hope and misgivings
The tune of modern life in the 1920s and 1930s was set by jazz bands and factory whistles. Cities burgeoned, and steam engines, cars and aeroplanes made it easier to quickly move from one place to another. The goal was to ‘open the windows to Europe’. Belief in a better future was put to the test in Finland by the Great Depression (1929–1934). Art was looking in several directions at once. Increasingly international, artists once more embraced new styles, and being an artist became ever clearer as a profession in its own right.
Modernist classicism in all its varieties was the usual style of representation in the 1920s–30s, although a strong surrealist undertone was ripening in places like Turku as well.
Information about Gallery 9:
This is a very dark space: there are only some spotlights and very little general lighting.
Gallery 10, Urban Life
In this gallery the artist’s gaze turns inwards, quiet and sometimes melancholy as well, focusing on a single person, a view from the window or a townscape. Artists in Finland closely followed events on the international art scene. The latest European art, such as Russian avant-garde and that being done by French and German artists, was presented in art galleries founded in Helsinki. However, the First World War dampened things and limited contacts. Following Finland’s independence in 1917, the political situation between right and left was riddled with tension. The home, safe and forward-looking, became an important symbol.
Information about Gallery 10:
Gallery 10 is located at a corner of the building. There are 15 paintings on show, with a sculpture, The Granite Boy, in the middle of the Gallery. The next space, Gallery 11, has another thematic wall. Entitled Materials, it showcases the various materials used by artists and builders. Inside a display cabinet built into a wall are three miniature statues by Finnish artist Wäinö Aaltonen, which are all studies for his sculpture The Granite Boy: one is in wood, another in white plaster, and in the centre is a smaller, patinated plaster statue. Next to the cabinet are two old drill samples from the Ateneum building that you can touch. What materials do you recognise?
On the opposite wall from the cabinet are stairs leading to the ground floor.
Gallery 12, New Expression
The early 20th century was characterised by the need for a new social order. The general strike of 1905 sparked the process towards parliamentarism. Ideological activism led to the founding of political parties.
In art there was a search for entirely new forms of expression. The European art scene was filled by expressionists, impressionists, fauvists and cubists all at the same time. Artists began forming groups with other likeminded artists.
Groups also emerged in Finland, such as the post-impressionist Septem, whose hallmark was bright colourism, and the Marraskuu (‘November’) group, which favoured darker tones. There was a new sense of freedom in the use of form and colour, as well as in texture.
Information about Galleries 12 and 14:
You can continue from this gallery by taking either the stairs or the elevator up to the main gallery or the route along the corridor behind the main gallery. Running parallel to the Ateneuminkuja alley, the corridor is also Gallery 14. It provides more information about the Ateneum building and the museum’s history.
Gallery 13, Classics
At the end of the 19th century, Paris was the centre of European art that attracted artists from Finland and other Nordic countries. Parisian influences soon began to appear in art. Romanticism was replaced by outdoor painting and realism. This period in the history of art has left us with a great number of iconic works.
The annual Salon exhibitions in Paris offered artists an opportunity for a great breakthrough. A case in point is Albert Edelfelt’s A Child’s Funeral (1879), which won a third-class medal. In Finland this period became known as the Golden Age, representing a distillation of Finnish identity, people and landscape.
Information about Gallery 13:
This is the main gallery of the Ateneum, on the second level mezzanine. In the centre of the large space is a long sculpture base built specifically for this exhibition; it also serves as a bench. The most famous paintings in the Ateneum are here. At both short ends of the main gallery are stairs down to the second level. Behind the main gallery is a long corridor that serves as the accessibility route to the second level.
Gallery 15, Symbolism
At the turn of the 20th century, artists were preoccupied by great philosophical questions and the mysteries of the human condition. They turned their attention to the human psyche and pivotal moments in human life, such as birth, death and maturation into adulthood. Symbolists were fascinated by dreams and the imagination, and they often depicted these themes of the invisible world in their art.
Symbolists often found their inspiration in literature and music. The most famous literary source was Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil, 1857). Symbolists admired Neoplatonism and considered the material world to be merely a reflection of the real world of ideas. For them, works of art build bridges between worlds.
Information about Gallery 15:
In the centre of the Gallery is a sculpture that may be touched wearing vinyl gloves.
Gallery 16 Kalevala
The Kalevala is a collection of ancient Finnish folk poems. The poems were originally sung, and they were passed down through the generations as an oral tradition. The first version of the Kalevala was published in 1835, and the final, extended edition in 1849. In the years after its publication it came to be considered the national epic of Finland.
From the start artists found inspiration in the mythic characters and stories in the Kalevala. The greatest interpretations of the epic in visual art were created at the turn of the 20th century. In this period the national-romantic veneration of Karelia (known as Karelianism) led artists to search for visual motifs in Karjala, the region from which most of the Kalevala‘s poems were originally collected. Most notably among these artists was Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
Information about Gallery 16:
At the corner of this gallery is a Kalevala-themed info wall, which is entitled The Great Pike after the painting of the same name by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. In a closed glass case under the painting is a kantele harp and the jawbone of a large pike. To the left of the cabinet are two sets of earphones that you can use to listen to music: a traditional tune from Russian Karelia played on a kantele harp and a fragment from The Story of the Great Pike, a song about the birth of the kantele performed by a male voice choir. Paintings in this gallery also include Kullervo Cursing, Lemminkäinen’s Mother and Aino Myth.
Gallery 17 People
An idealised picture of the Finnish people was constructed in the last decades of the 19th century. Both peasants and gentlefolk were depicted in a romantic light. The scenes were often formal, but they also reveal an interest in folklore, such as dress and objects.
History painting was used to describe past events, such as wars or the lives of important persons. Artists were actually encouraged to tackle historical subjects, but the results were poorer than expected. Portraiture, however, was a more fertile field: it was important for the nation to capture major figures in images.
Information about Gallery 17:
This is a very densely hung gallery featuring 63 paintings and four busts. The paintings include the famous canvases Queen Bianca and The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris by Albert Edelfelt and The Bride’s Song by Gunnar Berndtson. The tour continues in Gallery 18, which is a corridor running parallel to Keskuskatu street. At the end of the gallery you will turn into Gallery 19, which is also a corridor and the last Gallery on the tour.
Gallery 18 and 19
As far back as the early 19th century, Finnish landscapes were captured on lithographs, which were then sold in portfolios. The most important portfolio was Finland framställdt i teckningar (‘Finland depicted in drawings’, 1845–1852). Its pictures also included some built environments. The idea originally came from the writer Zachris Topelius, according to whom nature, people and culture are a single entity. An opposite view was held by the poet J. L. Runeberg, whose romantic idea was that untamed nature and pristine wilderness represent the very opposite of culture and were important for that very reason. An untouched lake landscape seen from high above was, for a long time, an ideal type of Finnish landscape.
Information about Gallery 19:
From the last corridor gallery you arrive back at the main staircase to the so-called bridge, a balcony from which you can take either the stairs or the lift down to the first level.
Stories of Finnish Art continues with the theme of 1950s and 1960s
The tour continues in a corridor that runs parallel to Mikonkatu street. The corridor starts between the service points in the lobby and it comprises Galleries 3 to 5. There are about sixty works on show on the ground floor: paintings, sculptures, prints and one video. From the last gallery a staircase leads up to the second floor.
GALLERY 3. Theme: Form and colour
After World War II, Finland went through a period of reconstruction. Artists contributed by creating commissioned works: murals and monuments. At the time the president of the country was Urho Kaleva Kekkonen, elected in 1956, and the population stood at roughly four million. Coca-Cola, rock music and television became part of everyday life. Finnish architecture and design rose to international fame.
A great transformation took place in art when modernism made its breakthrough. Concrete art reduced the message into forms and colours. Sam Vanni wanted to make colours stand in direct opposition: “I play around with them until they go BZZZ.” Others explored the offshoots of surrealism or painted the world as it appeared to the senses.
Information about Gallery 3:
Two of the sculptures in this gallery may be touched by visually impaired visitors, but only while wearing vinyl gloves. Free gloves and more information about touchable sculptures is available at the info desk.
GALLERY 4. Theme: The Right to Experiment
Finland in the 1950s–70s was characterised by internal migration; people moving from rural areas to industrializing cities. The movement put also thoughts in motion. Students began to use their voices to redress social ills. This new awareness was reflected in music, theatre, literature, film and the fine arts.
International art gained new importance. The Ateneum Art Museum organised the first ARS exhibition in 1961, which introduced Finland to Italian, French and Spanish informalism. Its influence was later reflected also in the work of many Finnish artists.
This was a time when almost anything could be tried out in art. Assemblages, or three-dimensional object works, became popular. The spirit of experimentation led to the use of surprising choices of materials as well as sounds, light or motion. It also led to controversial subject matter, which gave rise to allegations of blasphemy and even to trials.
Information about Gallery 4:
This space contains a very large vertical wooden sculpture by artist Mauno Hartman. You may touch the piece provided you are wearing vinyl gloves provided by the museum. Please note that the base of the sculpture is part of the artwork: be careful not to trip over wooden elements on the floor.
GALLERY 5. Theme: Political Art
Newspapers, radio and television spoke about political crises and war, but they also reported on underground movements, hippies and popular culture. American music and movies made headlines. Artists drew inspiration from the work of American artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg.
Finnish artists exploited Finland’s geopolitical situation on the border between the West and the East next to the Soviet Union. People were well-informed and there was a readiness to challenge the political system. Institutions, including museums, were accused of stagnation. Art was used to take a political stance, and its media ranged from pop art to performance, environmental art and conceptual art.
Information about Gallery 5:
In the centre of this space is a tall metal sculpture that may not be touched. There are video works on show in front of a window that reaches all the way down to the floor.
Information about Ateneum Art Museum – locations:
Accessibility entrance from Ateneuminkuja.
The ground-floor plan when you enter from the main entrance facing the Railway Square: at left are the ticket counter, info desk, and a self-service cloakroom.
Behind the main staircase are the lift, toilets (men, women and disabled) and service cloakroom.
On the right is the café/restaurant, and next to it the Ateneum inner courtyard with the museum shop. The Stories of Finnish Art exhibition continues on the ground floor in Galleries 2–5 under the theme of art from the 1950s and 1960s.
The info desk and the service cloakroom have relief maps of the ground floor that you can borrow.
1st floor – Auditorium, two separate toilets (men and women)
2nd floor – Stories of Finnish Art exhibition; accessibility entrance to workshop is next to the lift
3rd floor – Temporary Exhibitions. This floor also has one toilet next to the lift.
WORKS WITH ACCOMPANYING AUDIO DESCRIPTION
The Ateneum website has eleven audio descriptions of works from the museum’s collection.
Audio descriptions of the following works are in Finnish and can be accessed online at the Ateneum website: Link to audio descriptions
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE ATENEUM ART MUSEUM:
Tickets and admission prices of exhibitions varies.
Under 18 years free of charge
Free admission with Museum Card
Tue, Fri 10–18
Wed, Thu 10–20
Sat, Sun 10–17
Tel. +358 ( 0)294 500 401, ainfo [a] ateneum.fi
Collections Online: kansallisgalleria.fi
TOUCHABLE SCULPTURES IN THE STORIES OF FINNISH ART EXHIBITION
Ateneum second level and ground floor
Below is a list of artworks that may be touched by permission and only when wearing vinyl gloves. Touching the sculptures is reserved for the visually impaired visitors only. This is done usually under the supervision of a museum guide and takes place in a group. However, permission to touch these works can also be granted to a visual impaired visitor who attend the exhibition with a personal assistant.
All jewellery such as rings, bracelets and watches, metal clasps, etc. must be removed, even when wearing gloves. This applies also to assistants and other guides. The works that may be touched can be identified in the galleries by the Braille tag beside the work or its label. If no Braille tag is provided, the work must not be touched.
Please note! It is forbidden to move or lift the sculptures. Always wear vinyl gloves, which are available on request at the museum info desk. Sizes S, M and L.
Ateneum 2nd level
Start in Gallery 15 using clean vinyl gloves, for the marble is a very delicate material.
Gallery 15 Theme: Symbolism
AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917), French
Gallery 8 Theme: Echoes of War
MIKKO HOVI (1879-1962), Finnish
Gallery 6 Theme: Artists
GUNNAR FINNE, 1886–1952, Finnish
Bust of Toivo Vikstedt, 1922
OSKARI JAUHIAINEN, 1913–1990, Finnish
Selfportrait, bust 1947
On the Ground Floor
Gallery 3 Theme: Form and colour
KAIN TAPPER (1930-2004), Finnish
Light Wedge, 1967
material: birch tree
MAX ERNST (1891-1976), German
Genius of the Bastille, 1960-1961
Gallery 4 Theme: Permission to experiment
MAUNO HARTMAN s.1930, Finnish
Home Land -sculpture II, 1968