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.
Anitra Lucander: Composition, 1956
Anitra Lucander was one of the early pioneers of abstract art in Finland: she adopted the non-representational idiom as early as the 1950s. Her artistic development was influenced by studies in the international and inspiring atmosphere at the Free Art School in Helsinki and also by her travels in France, India and elsewhere. Composition represents lyrical abstraction, a style that grew out of cubism and developed in a freer direction. Although this picture was likely originally inspired by an urban view, it is first and foremost a composition of colours and shapes. It is also a fine example of Lucander’s sophisticated use of colours. It was purchased for the museum’s collection from the triennial exhibition of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland in 1956.
Serge Poliakoff: Composition, 1950–1959
The first international ARS exhibition of contemporary art was held at the Ateneum in 1961, and later ones followed at intervals of a few years. This painting was bought from the first exhibition. It is an energetic composition that examines the relations between colour, vibrant form and space. Serge Poliakoff was a Russian-born modernist painter who worked in Paris. Many abstract artists looked up to him as an example. He was a skilful colourist, and as early as 1952 his works were included in Klar form, an exhibition of French modern art at Kunsthalle Helsinki.
Otto Mäkilä: Tower, 1950
Otto Mäkilä was one of the key artists of the so-called Turku school of modernism. He studied at the Turku Drawing School and later in Paris. Mäkilä was a pioneer of Finnish surrealism, who early on abandoned the idea of depicting reality. His art was concerned with interpreting his inner visions and exploring humanity. Mäkilä was extremely sensitive to the mental climate and trends in the world around him. With the war, his down-to-earth surrealism and inner visions turned into increasingly disillusioned pictures of isolation. Tower reflects Mäkilä’s pessimistic philosophy: unable to step outside our world, we are doomed to live within our shell – prisoners of a solitary room.
Lars-Gunnar Nordström: Red Composition, 1954
Nordström became a pioneer of abstract, non-figurative art in Finland at the turn of the 1950s. He abandoned all references to the visible world and created his own distinctive visual idiom. Constructivism in painting is characterised by clearly distinct colour surfaces that are entirely devoid of tonality or individual brush strokes. Red Composition consists of colour fields that are separated by narrow, precise bands. The fields create shapes that are articulated by such opposites as positive and negative, open and closed and concave and convex. Colours are acutely contrasting in Nordström’s work as well: the ‘receding’ and ‘advancing’ colour fields lend a dimension of depth to the shapes in the painting.
NOTE! Its status as a national gallery requires the Ateneum Art Museum to lend its works to other museums in Finland and abroad, and this is one of the reasons why the selection of works on display in Ateneum varies to some extent.
More information on the works and artists from the Finnish National Gallery Collections web service.