Permission to experiment

Stories of Finnish Art. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Stories of Finnish Art. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Finland in the 1950s–70s was characterised by internal migration; people moving from rural areas to industrialising 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.

Jaakko Sievänen: Marsh Bird, 1961–1962

Jaakko Sievänen: Marsh Bird, 1961–1962. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

Jaakko Sievänen: Marsh Bird, 1961–1962. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

The 1961 ARS exhibition marked the final breakthrough of abstract art, and informalism in particular, in Finnish art. The former predominance of clear, geometric motifs was replaced by a freer use of form. During his travels abroad, Jaakko Sievänen had seen works of this kind even earlier. In 1964 he became one of the founders of the informalist March Group. Marsh Bird belongs to a series of paintings with bird names as their title. The motif only hints at a bird, and the work focuses on the palpably physical nature of the paint and the dramatic sense of motion. Traces of brushwork were left visible.

Juhani Harri: Mulleins, 1975

Juhani Harri: Mulleins, 1975. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Sakari Viika

Juhani Harri: Mulleins, 1975. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Sakari Viika

Juhani Harri began making assemblages in boxes in the 1960s. In them he often combines found, discarded objects to create romantic miniature worlds or ominous nocturnal scenes. When a picture or an object is separated from its ordinary context and its scale is altered, the result is surreal. All the classical elements – earth, water, fire and air – can be found in Harri’s work. He sometimes patinated his works by scorching them, and the ‘flowers’ in this piece, old chimney brushes, are also associated with fire. Harri was familiar with the work of French neo-realists, and the use of everyday objects was also linked to pop art.

Kain Tapper: Horse Skull, 1957

Kain Tapper: Horse Skull, 1957. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Niina Vatanen

Kain Tapper: Horse Skull, 1957. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Niina Vatanen

Postwar sculpture was far more than just monumental motifs and hero memorials. Kain Tapper belonged to the generation of young sculptors who renewed the art and shocked the public. An important learning period for Tapper were the five years he spent as an assistant to Aimo Tukiainen. An animal skull is a common vanitas motif designed to remind us of the brevity of life. This sculpture distantly replicates the shape of the skull of a horse named Varma that was dug up at Tapper’s home farm. It signalled the start of a series of abstracted skulls that Tapper created using a variety of wood and stone. The surface patina on Tapper’s sculptures is vibrant and palpable.

Helena Pylkkänen: Giannicolo, 1976

Helena Pylkkänen: Giannicolo, 1976. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Helena Pylkkänen: Giannicolo, 1976. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Gianicolo, or Janiculum, is the second-highest hill in Rome, with a wide view of the centre of the great city. There is a large park on the hill that is known for its views but also as a meeting place for lovers. Sculptor Helena Pylkkänen has worked for long periods of time in Italy and France. Her output includes animal and human figures in bronze and in various types of stone. Giannicolo is an intensely sensuous piece that breathes in sync with the pulse of the age while echoing classical European art history. Although the torsos, armless human figures, only touch each other in a few places, they are in an almost electric contact with each other.

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.

 

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More information on the works and artists from the Finnish National Gallery Collections web service.