FINE ART – Hannu Väisänen, Tuomo Saali, Marjatta Tapiola

Kirjoitettu Kirjoittaja Markku Piri

Galerie Forsblom has been a major player in the Helsinki art scene for decades. The new gallery space, opened in a historical landmark building in central Helsinki in May 2011, and designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, New York, adds to the status and expectations of the gallery and the ”over-all ambiance of a pleasant gallery visit”.  There is light, height, elegance to the space, and even a refined scent through the materials used (solid cedar wood?).

Hannu Väisänen is one of my favorite Finnish contemporary artists, and, though based in France, one of the most cherished visual artists in Finland. Through his 40-year successful career, he has been often surprising, versatile, touching and thoroughly witty in his output. Paintings, graphic art, stage design for opera, performances. Decade after decade, new facets of his artistry come to the fore, adding to the story, and at this point, to the legend.

I adore his visual interpretations for the Kalevala epic (1999), a major undertaking that paid off brilliantly. Significantly inspired by and involved with music, Väisänen has also created most successful public art in Finland; his two giant paintings, with integral sculptural elements, are breathtaking at the Finnish National Opera.

Hannu Väisänen’s key painting ”The Mother of Colours” (2012) at Galerie Forsblom.

”Silent Yellow”, my favorite Hannu Väisänen painting in the Forsblom show.

Väisänen is also a successful author, and that is part of the problem of his new exhibition at Galerie Forsblom. The third installment of his life’s story, told through the alter ego Antero, was just published and has become No1. best-seller in Finland. The second of the series (2007) won him the esteemed Finlandia prize.

Most of the works at the new exhibition seem hastily painted, and without enough enthusiasm that would make them look self-evident. Thin layers of paint, little vibrancy or life in the colours, they bathe in glorious light in the vast elegant space of the Forsblom gallery, and start to evaporate.

The subject matters of the paintings have become mostly so personal that only the keenest followers of the painter, or readers of Antero’s adventures in the published books, get a sense of connection or reason in front of the paintings. The painter’s time and passion seem to have become the writer’s; one has to know and love Antero first in order to ”get” the paintings.

I recall a premiere of the Finnish dancer-choreographer Jorma Uotinen’s new spectacle in Helsinki in the early 80’s. The flamboyant Uotinen had become such a favorite with the critics and the Helsinki audiences that he could get away with anything on stage. Feeling apparently let down by the choreographer’s latest flight of fancy, Hannu Väisänen was heard shouting from the audience, calling for ”relevance onto the stage!” (asiallisuutta lavalle!).

Great paintings are simply not created by writing.

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Leaving the Forsblom gallery somewhat disappointed, I happened to stop by a store window a block away, and was awakened by delight. A small gallery (G12 Galleria) specialized in lending/renting (and selling by installments) works of art, had four paintings of clouds by the wall next to the front windows. My heart stood still, I had to go in.

”Vapauden kaipuu” (Longing for Freedom, 2012) by Tuomo Saali

”Anabasis (extreme)”, 2012, show’s Tuomo Saali’s masterful sense of color and technique in oils, and a fresh interpretation of a classic theme, Man and/versus Nature.

What an utterly magnificent series of paintings! They were full of air and thought; enjoyable, skilful painting; most voluptuous but not self-conscious use of colors. No matter their actual size, each painting seemed to fill a vast space, create a universe on its own. I felt genuinely elevated, contented.

The theme underneath touched, too, the scale, grandness and beauty of the world, the scope of the skies, the feeling of longing (”kaipuu”), the seeming smallness of man. Man meeting and measuring his boundaries, the disappearance of shores, mountains and borders into the skies or the sea. Men in the company of men, explorers on the journey, with a hint of threat and danger. And beyond that, the questions of the health of the globe and our responsibilities in it.

There was a pleasant reference towards the Romantic era in the works, but the painting style, natural swiftness and ease of the brushwork, studied and vibrant work of a master colorist gave the paintings a modern and timeless feel. Fresh!

Tuomo Saali, I exclaimed to myself after having been immersed into the world of these new paintings. One of my heroes in Finnish painting! From his studies of air, light and architecture in Venice to his buddhas and flowering paradise, I have been in awe of his work. And now these incredible skies!

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In the winter season of Helsinki art, the painter Marjatta Tapiola created a show-stopping appearance in her triple act of a retrospective at the Helsinki Art Museum, a show of new paintings at Galleria Sculptor, and the commisioned portrait of the former Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Sauli Niinistö, Finland’s current president; all revealed in the course of a week.

Marjatta Tapiola’s masked ball at a grand scale at the recent exhibition at Galleria Sculptor.

Marjatta Tapiola’s ”The Wonderer” (Vaeltaja), 1995, at the Helsinki Art Museum retrospective; fluidity of line, painting at her best.

Tapiola as a painter is not a colorist. Her works these days are large in scale, have a fluent drawing quality, and are filled with expression, distortion, layers of lines. The show of nine new works has a unity, networks of lines on a pale ground, and themes from minotaurs and masked balls, bulls stopped and seized before an attack, to fragmented horses captured in mid-gallop. There is a feeling of speed and events, as if interrupted by the stopping of clocks, of erotic tension, passion and death. Sometimes the references to Picasso (his minotaurs and hers) are obvious. An impressive and energetic entity.

The retrospective exhibition at the Helsinki Art Museum tells the story of the painter’s path from the 80’s till today. Compared to the exceeding superlatives lavished on the artist in the media, the path according to this show seems sometimes surprisingly hesitant. Tapiola’s interest in skulls is not unlike Georgia O’Keeffe’s, and one painting on display also experiments with O’Keeffe’s style of painting. In some of the new works, I notice myself removing in my mind the painter’s later layers and additions, a head there, for example, to ”improve” the work.

Many of the paintings I am stunned by, but some of the early work appears clumsy, and I soon become irritated by how the show is curated and hung. There is little dialogue or interesting tension between the works, and I am startled by discovering (unwanted) dialogue between the works and the museum’s physical quality, of the shape and condition of the walls, the lists, the pipes running in the ceiling, lighting fixtures, all those things that would need to be improved and that scream: we need a proper, elegant exhibition space for the Helsinki Art Museum.


Kirjoitettu Kirjoittaja Markku Piri

Crisp solid colours of the news anchor work well with the studio tones.

When something ordinary and daily in your routines goes through a significant change, you realize in a simple way the ever-evolving, changing nature of life, and feel refreshed. Just as important as it would be for any person to change something in the rhythm or environment of their life every 5 to 7 years, it feels natural for the daily tv-news format and design to change, too, in similar intervals.
The Finnish Broadcasting Corp., YLE, just launched an in-depth design renewal of its news broadcasts, both on tv and in radio (audio design included).

The massive undertaking has been in the works for three years now, and most active during the last two. Part of the conceptual and design team was brought out-of-the house: the London based agency The Council is specialized in broadcast design, the Helsinki based firms Fake Graphics in 3-d animation and Bob Helsinki in brand architecture. At € 600 000, the design bill doesn’t include YLE’s in-house personnel’s major efforts.

The result is like a breath of fresh air! Congratulations, YLE!

Sculptural furniture; the range of key colours.

The new concept and look work vividly and crisply with colours! The gentle sky blues, turqoises, off whites with leaf green details and other stronger accent colours are immediately refreshing and yet reliable. (They hint towards the ”blue and white” of the Finnish national colour combination, but aren’t as stark, and the blues on the tv screen are far from the -in reality- dusty-dirty blue of the Finnish flag.)

The studio has a great spatial impact. The furniture and the oversize screen frames have a highly stylized sculptural effect that imply to the scale of the WORLD behind the news. The streamlined design is both up-to-date and has a hint of the grandly styled, oversize movie sets of 1930′s Hollywood spectacles, with a touch of the yester-year designer-guru Raymond Loewy thrown in. The 3-d animations add to the elegant spatial feel.

Part of the energized atmoshpere of the new tv-news is due to the shifted importance of the news anchors. They no longer sit behind the desks but stand, and move. They are whole human beings, a bit of host’s duties added to their responsibilities, and it seems to work splendidly. Kudos to the styling of the outfits; solid colours and clear cuts emphasize the anchors’ personality and credibility, and work wonders in the overall colour design.

Streamlined design in sky blues and off-whites.

The anchors appear confident, appealing and very professional in this new environment; no need for ”celebrity status” anchors as with competing news programs.

Additional thanks for the new design of the weather forecast visual presentation and symbols. The crispier and well contrasting colours and smoothly styled elements land somewhere between cartoon design and fine art, never losing their vital way to carry information.

Watching the news on a 48 inch HD flatscreen, some of the title graphics and a few of the insert photos and film footage appeared not good enough in resolution.



Kirjoitettu Kirjoittaja Markku Piri


Dr. Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén’s appointment as Director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. inspired an article by the journalist Kaisa Viljanen in Finland’s most influential newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. Titled ”Art Museum’s director roulette started”, with the ambitious subtitle ANALYSIS, the writer offers some naive opinions and an emphasis (and indirect approval) of some populist views.

Janne Sirén appointed Director, Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Viljanen claims that Sirén will be remembered -in good and bad- mostly for, what she calls the embarrassment of the failed attempt to launch the Guggenheim museum’s branch in Helsinki. She repeats (”truth” is created by public repetition) opinions of Sirén as too self-assured, too American in his manners to fit in Helsinki. The writer also tries to associate a causal link between Sirén and the mildew problems of the Helsinki art museum’s Meilahti gallery, as if the closing of it for health reasons and the subsequent drop in total attendance numbers would be Sirén’s personal failure.

For me the appointment of Siren in 2007 as the director of Helsinki art museum was a welcome breath of fresh air, and his tenure is a great symbol of that! That appointment was against major odds. A seemingly unbreakable status quo existed between the leading visual arts critic Marja-Terttu Kivirinta of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, her choice of approved Finnish artists, in close collaboration with her choice of art museum directors and gallery owners. Kivirinta opposed Sirén’s selection fiercely behind the scenes and in published articles, and openly campaigned for ”her” candidate. Sirén’s appointment to the position was a first major crumble in Kivirinta’s absolute power in the Helsinki (Finnish) art scene and politics, a first sign of long overdue perestroika. Incidentally, Helsingin Sanomat was, for a reason, nick-named ”Pravda” in its use of power as the overwhelmingly largest Finnish newspaper, making and breaking careers. (Only the emergence of internet, facebook and the ease with which diverse opinions now circulate and can be published has softened Helsingin Sanomat’s influence.)

In her ”analysis”, Viljanen writes that judging by the first reactions, ”the Americans seem to be in heat for Sirén. And if he does well, even other (foreign) museums may start to look into Finnish arts professionals”.

I have read some 20+ articles or blogs about Sirén’s new appointment, and they are friendly, interested, welcoming, but hardly in heat!

What is most curious, though, is the writer’s understanding of Sirén’s possible impact. I know Sirén as a higly intelligent, optimistic, ambitious professional with natural and polished social skills, quick mind; superbly fluent in English. He’s an excellent listener and communicator, a smart delegator. He has great capacity to engourage, to make you feel important as a team member. His networking skills are truly unusual for a Finn. His perspective is wide and open, he’s curious for possibilities and options, even the option of a Guggenheim success in Finland.

These are not qualities that Finnish art professionals are known for. I know of many career arts professionals and museum directors in Finland who cannot utter a sensible sentence in any foreign language (perhaps not even in Finnish), and who have attended seminars in silence in foreign countries without ever engaging in them. Possibilities for international dialogue?

Would Sirén’s success suddenly improve Finnish arts professionals’ language and social skills, leadership, communicative and networking skills, intellectual and professional capacity? Would Sirén’s presence, body language, friendly facial expressions, visible sparkle of the mind open up other Finnish arts professionals from thoughts of morose jealousy, visible angst, lame resignation?

I don’t think so. Sirén’s qualities are personal, certainly not national. Congratulations to Albright-Knox Art Gallery!

Helsinki Art Museum shares the old Tennis Palace location with a multriplex cinema. Museum visitors at the joint lobby are first met with the stench of pop-corn grease. With or without Guggenheim, a new museum space would ideally be a harmonious combination of location, inspirational architecture, exhibited art and the multi-functions of a modern museum.






Kirjoitettu Kirjoittaja admin

Schjerfbeck 2

Schjerfbeck paintings in a major retrospective at the Ateneum in Helsinki.

Two recent major exhibitions got me thinking about the relationship between individual, masteful works of art, and how they could potentially form dialogue, shape a story and create a drama with an arch -and side stories- within an exhibition.

In the production of Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946), it is the story, development and eventual isolation of the painter-person linked with her works of art that starts to move and penetrate into your mind. Classically trained in fine European tradition, her shift from historical scenes and portraits to her stylized, more and more economical interpretations on people (women, often herself) end up as fleeting visions of light and shadow, all unnecesary edited out, yet full of character. Striking, timeless ability; a clairvoyant of a painter.

Past summer’s major Schjerfbeck retrospective at the Finnish National Gallery (Ateneum) was a disappointment, though. And I was disappointed that it was a disappointment. The whole did not become a whole, there was no arch, no drama, no story, themes were interrupted, much was fractured. The exhibition made Schjerfbeck look inferior to her ability and recently rising new fame. I talked about this with some curator friends, and we were frustrated, irritated and a bit sad.

Clearly the exhibition was over-packed with works and under-curated. Not everything needs to be shown to have a major impact! The exhibition showed little focus and simply too much of the display designer’s infatuation for painting background walls with bold colours, no matter how trendy it happens to be in museum shows these days. If one, indeed, does find in a painting a smallest splash of ice-cream peach colour in a girls’s blouse, painting a giant wall that icky tone is underestimating the original artist’s intention and her refined palette.

While the Düsseldorf Kunstpalast this year examined El Greco’s influence in Modernism, the Ateneum exhibition had related aces with great timing at hand. Schjerfbeck painted wonderful interpretations of some major El Grecos, loaned to Finland for this show. The placement on the 2nd floor in a shadowy corner lost the remarkable case at hand, and proved that without a sense of drama and occasion by the exhibition architect, a great artist can be lost in her own exhibition, while simultaneously losing the visiting El Grecos.

Wonderful bronzes at The Royal Academy of Art's exhibition in London.

Wonderful bronzes at The Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition in London.

”Glorious works of art with no relation to each other, or the space” was the projecting thought with this visitor at The Royal Academy of Art’s BRONZE exhibition in London. To have all these remarkable works of art there, sculptures in bronze spanning some 5000 years and all continents, is truly incredible! Individually, and in different ways, each work was breathtaking, spellbinding. Their display, however, showed them no respect. One would hope to have the chance to walk around a major piece of sculpture to experience its three-dimentional qualities from close-by and from a distance. This was seldom possible as they were placed on blindingly white boxed platforms with sides (as if backs) close to walls.

Masterpieces shouting for attention and an elementary sense of display drama -and clearly demanding space- were placed in curious corners, or clumsily behind other works. An archway into the next hall should offer a tantalizing view; not for these display architects, who seemed to be focusing only on their next white cube, lifting a dazzling horse’s head so high its beauty was out of sight, fragmenting Matisse’s four interlinked bronzes into oblivion. Was there any thought behind the lighting in the cases? Direct lighting from above erased most wonderful and significant details.

In art, it is so rewarding when the sum is greater than the parts individually counted. And it is frustrating when marvelous individual works of art result in less than marvelous exhibitions due to lack of thought or ability by the organizers.