I finally made it to the newly curated and designed permanent collection of the Ateneum, and I am giddy with joy! Finally, for the first time in my life, the collections are presented with mastery and a deep understanding of their meaning and value!. It’s not question of cosmetic choices. The museum director Johanna Pettersson and her team of curators, researchers and designers have thought through their task, they have dedicated themselves to the project, their research has been thorough and wonderfully inspired. The team has acted with curiosity and brave creativity! The National Gallery has risen to an impeccable international level!
THE BASIC COLLECTION: http://www.ateneum.fi/nayttelyt/suomen-taiteen-tarina/?lang=en
There’s lots to be thankful both in the big alignments and the smallest delicious details. The gallery walls once again reflect the original Neo-Renaissance period of the building in their grandly befitting rich, deep and occasionally passionate colours. This creates both intimacy and a level of celebration; and when there’s height and breadth in the spaces, even the darkest wall colours won’t constrict. The new thinking has pushed aside the sterile whitewashed walls reminding of the Lutheran ideals of “purity” that we are so familiar with in the timid restoration projects of many historical buildings in Finland between the 1960’s and 2000’s.
The way of presenting the art work has refreshingly returned to the ways of the 19th and earlier 20th century of showing paintings in layers above each other and with less space in between. The grand hall of “The Classics” is thus now devastating, breathtaking in its impact. The present exuberance and lushness is a logical result in this thinking, and the things could not work better. Thematic arches are created in which stories travel in revealing paths and insight. Next to the big themes, much pleasure and delight is created with the relationship and dialogue between the individual works.
The National Gallery’s collection of Finnish art through the ages is enormous, while one often before had the impression that the few but meaningful examples of “foreign art” in the collection were usually pushed into a small hall at the end of the route with the hidden compliant under-thought: “well, we do have a few of these, too…”.
Now the small gems of the well known international artists are cross-exposed with the works of their Finnish contemporaries, with much thematic and stylistic delight. The main revelation of the exhibition really becomes The Stories and The Dialogue, to the benefit of the viewer. When the eras and the themes coincide, the works of the Finnish artists are revealed in their contemporary timeliness and their lasting quality. Placing a landscape by Pierre Bonnard and the Finnish master Magnus Enckell next to each other, one is happily torn between which painting to love more, or the fact that they now are joined. There is only an irrelevant 4-year age difference between Marc Chagall’s “The Mandolin Player” and Greta Hällfors-Sipilä‘s painting of the “Johanneksen kirkko” church, each shining brightly with the other and passing on a view of the world and showcasing the wave-strength of art!
The narrow gallery presenting portraits and self portraits doesn’t -luckily- reflect the traditional Scandinavian minimalism either. The abundance and the dialogue that the wall exudes is a testament of the joy of art and its virile pulse over the decades!
Blown up details of artists’ sketches have been pasted on well chosen walls here and there in the museum. It is not an over-blown superficial impact but a delicate message that carries the curatorial attitude so impressive elsewhere.
The special exhibition “Japanomania” was not a big surprise to me thematically. Japanese visual culture is quite familiar to me, and Japanese influences have had a deep impact on my own visual work since the early 1980’s. Even in this part of the museum, I was moved by the curatorial research that resulted in such a beautifully designed exhibition.
Since Helene Schjerfbeck has always been one of the Finnish painters closest to my heart, and the influence of Japanese art in her work quite clear to me, it was delightful to see these visual links so cleverly and concretely presented in the show.
One beautiful solitary hall upstairs, dedicated to the works of Rodin, felt like a delightful odyssey; the space and the works breathed together, and the bagatelle lingered into significance in the mind.