Taking stand

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

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

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 benefited from Finland’s geopolitical situation on the border between the West and the East, as neighbour to the Soviet Union. Willingness to read and even challenge political systems was high. Institutions, including museums, were accused of stagnation. Art was used to make statements, and the artists’ media ranged from pop art to performance, environmental art and conceptual art.

Sam Vanni: Polydimensional Space, 1961

Sam Vanni: Polydimensional Space, 1961. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Sam Vanni: Polydimensional Space, 1961. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Sam Vanni had a special impact on Finnish art. He was a pioneer of abstraction and a creator of public murals, but also a legendary art teacher. Contacts with international – particularly French – art was vital to Vanni. Foreign teachers, friends, colleagues and pioneers supported his own transition from representational to entirely nonrepresentational art in the early 1950s. This painting with its dizzy rhythms, and a composition that irresistibly pulls the eye into the pictorial space, is considered the masterpiece of Vanni’s kinetic period. Its original inspiration was Vanni’s studio apartment and its stairs. The space is seen from many vantage points at once, creating several simultaneous perspectives.

Jan-Olof Mallander: Papersculptures in a File, 1972-1974

Jan-Olof Mallander: Papersculptures in a File, 1972-1974. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Leena Markkanen

Jan-Olof Mallander: Papersculptures in a File, 1972-1974. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Leena Markkanen

Conceptual art was born in the United States in the mid-1960s, and the new vision that foregrounded concepts as the proper medium of art reached Finland during the next decade. Jan-Olof Mallander’s Papersculptures in a File bears all the hallmarks of early conceptual art: the interplay between language and photography, repetition, seriality, and a medium that is easy-going and inexpensive. The collage-like pieces play with the proportions and hierarchy of space and landscape, as well as engaging in a dialogue with national monuments and sculptures. Mallander is one of the key figures of the Elonkorjaajat artist group.

Paul Osipow: Crunch, 1965–1966

Paul Osipow: Crunch, 1965–1966. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Paul Osipow: Crunch, 1965–1966. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

The 1960s was a time of rapid development in mass communication and technology and of accelerating urbanisation. Moderna Museet in Stockholm was an important hub of contemporary art and a gateway of international movements to the North. The 1964 exhibition of American pop art in Stockholm was an important source of inspiration for Paul Osipow and many other Finnish artists. As its name suggests, Crunch takes colourful images from ads and comics and crushes them into a structurally robust collage. Osipow learned his solid composition skills from his teachers Sam Vanni and Unto Pusa. Vibrating with the restlessness of a megacity, Crunch was included in the 1966 Young Artists’ Exhibition in Helsinki, which marked Osipow’s breakthrough.

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.