Folk Wisdom – Grayson Perry at Kiasma

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For my last morning in Helsinki I decided to visit Kiasma, the city’s Modern Art Museum. I particularly wanted to see the exhibition of works by Grayson Perry that had recently opened.

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The building was designed by the American architect, Steve Holl. Construction started in 1996 and it opened two years later in May 1998. It’s located in the city centre and with the Music Centre and Finlandia Hall forms a cultural axis leading towards Töölönlahti.

The Grayson Perry exhibition occupied the top floor, so on arriving I made my way up the stairs to the top of the building. The exhibition is a good survey of the artist’s work and includes examples of his tapestries, pottery, cast iron sculptures, sketches and other items – including a motorbike!

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Perry is a very astute observer of society and this is reflected in many of his works which are commentaries on various aspects of contemporary British life and society.

This is particularly true of Comfort Blanket,  a large patchwork quilt of “things we love, and love to hate”. Lots of the visitors seemed fascinated by this work.

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In his tapestry Death of a Working Hero which portrays a miner and a fighter, with a young boy caught between them, and the pot Shadow Boxing, Perry is commenting on contemporary masculinity, how the younger generations are encouraged to emulate the masculine stereotypes. However, unemployment and the social situation in many traditional working class areas make it difficult for them to live up to these expectations leading to a high rate of mental illness and suicides amongst men who are unable to talk about their feelings.

 

Two cast iron sculptures – Our Father and Our Mother – are also comments on the roles of the sexes

Our Father is a “monumental utility man”, like the men of his father’s generation who worked in industry and had manual skills. The man carries a medley of items from religious artefacts and books to digital devices.

“Our Mother is all of us on our journey through life, but she is also a universal refugee. She carries a great load of religious, cultural, domestic and parental baggage,”

The exhibition included the six-part tapestry cycle The Vanity of Small Differences (2012) which we’d seen in Manchester in January 2014. The cycle updates William Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress (1733) with the story of the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a computer software millionaire.

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Matching Pair are two pots about the Brexit referendum. One representing the views and values of pro-Brexit voters, and the other those of anti-Brexit voters.

 

The Kiasma website tells us that

Perry travelled to meet people in the regions of Britain that were most adamantly for or against Britain leaving the EU. He also asked for contributions on Facebook and Twitter.

“I asked for self-portrait photographs, pictures of things people loved about Britain, their preferred colour, favourite brands and who represented their values.”

factions. “The two pots have come out looking remarkably similar, which is a good result, for we all have much more in common than that which separates us,” says Perry.

Grayson Perry is well known for his transvestism and there was a selection of his dresses on show

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There were also examples of his sketchbooks which illustrate how his ideas evolve

All in all a good retrospective of his work.

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A walk along the Helsinki shore

 

Thursday evening after work during my stay in Finland I decided to take a walk along the sea shore. I headed down towards Eira, a wealthy district  which, according to Wikipedia “has some of the most expensive and sought-after old apartments in Helsinki”, many of them built in the Jugendstil style.

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This building with the tall tower and metal spire, is the Mikael Agricola Church, which was designed by Lars Sonck, well known for his Jugenstil buildings, including the Kallio church I’d been to look at a couple of days before.

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I felt that it had a very modern look, despite being designed in the early 1930’s. If I’d have guessed I’d have said it was probably built considerably later towards the end of the 20th Century. Its relatively plain appearance (at least from the outside) is very different from Sonck’s Kallio church.

Reaching the sea I followed the shore, passing a number of islands just off-shore.

 

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Further along, I could see the fortress island of Suomenlinna, which I planned to visit the next day

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I passed this statue

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The Statue of Peace by Essi Renvall. According to the artist

the statue’s female figure is the spirit of peace returning after a war with a new, peaceful heart.

Up on the Observatory hill, overlooking the bay, was this sculpture, The Shipwrecked by Robert Stigell,

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which

depicts a shipwrecked family. The father, the central figure in the group, holds a small child in his arms and is calling for help. He is waving a scarf and looking towards their rescuers. Another child, a small boy, is stuck in what remains of the ship. The mother has collapsed and is lying on the raft. The work does not depict a particular shipwreck nor is it historical; Stigell was merely interested in exploring the sculptural dynamics of the subject.

Carrying on along the quay side, I soon reached Esplanade and I was able to take a look at one of Helsinki’s most famous public monuments, Havis Amanda by Ville Vallgren

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A naked female figure in the centre of a fountain – according to the artist

the central female figure, who has risen from the sea, symbolises Helsinki and the birth of the City. Upon her unveiling the Swedish language newspapers in Helsinki and the sculptor himself started to call the sculpture ‘Havis Amanda’.

There are several other sculptures in the Esplanade gardens, including two by Viktor Jansson , the father of Tove Jansson, the author of the Moomin books

Tove Jansson modelled for her father for the mermaid.

Diverting off Esplanade I spotted this modern sculpture I in Kasarmitori, a rectangular square where the Finnish Defence Ministry is located in a former Neo-Classical Barracks designed by Carl Ludwig Engel.

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The modern sculpture by Pekka Kauhanen stands in front of the ministry and is The National Memorial to the Winter War  and was only installed in November 2016.

I made my way back to Esplanade park. This sculpture is  located at the end of the park, close to the Swedish Theatre

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Fact and Fable, memorial to Topelius by Gunnar Finne

consists of two allegorical female figures: ‘Fact’ with the flame of truth on her palm, and ‘Fable’ with the crown-headed bird of fable resting on her fingers. The figures face opposite directions: ‘Fact’ looks down the Esplanadi park while ‘Fable’s’ gaze is turned to the sidewalk off Pohjoisesplanadi’.

Reaching the end of Esplanade it was only a short walk back to my hotel. I’d walked a fair distance and it was time to find a café for a drink and a bite to eat.

HAM

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The Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) is responsible for the upkeep of over 9,000 works of art which are owned by the city of Helsinki – almost half of which are on display in parks, streets, and other public spaces around the city. They also hold exhibitions of modern and contemporary art in their Gallery which is located in the  Tennis Palace, just around the corner from where I was staying so I thought I’d go and have a look at what was on show.

The Tennis Palace was built in 1938 for the 1940 Summer Olympics which were due to be held in Helsinki. They were postponed, for obvious reasons, and were rescheduled for 1952 when the Tennis Palace was used for the basketball tournament. The building was originally intended to service cars during the planned 1940 Games.In 1938 a third floor with large, vaulted rooms occupied by four Olympic tennis courts was added. Today it’s occupied by HAM, a large multiplex cinema and retail units.

There were 3 exhibitions being shown during my visit.

The first I saw featured frescoes painted by Tove Jansson, the author of the Moomin stories who had trained as an artist.

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There were two large frescoes Party in the City and Party in the Country created in 1947  for the Kaupunginkellari restaurant, located in the Helsinki City Hall. They were recued when the restaurant was relocated in 1965.

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A fresco created for the canteen of the electromechanical company Oy Strömberg Ab in 1945 was also on display as well as her sketches of murals for the Aurora Children’s Hospital.

The second exhibition, Air de Paris, featured works inspired by the French capital by Finnish artists, collected by Leonard Bäcksbacka a Finnish art dealer who had lived in Paris and was a big fan of French art.

The artists were all unknown to me and the standard of the work was variable, but there were a number that I liked.

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The main exhibition Graffiti,  occupied the whole of the top floor filling two large domed galleries. HAM’s website tells us

Graffiti, explores the historical roots of graffiti and its present manifestations, with particular focus on the links between Helsinki graffiti culture and the international field.

I have to say that although I like much “street art” that you see around many cities these days, I’m not a fan of traditional Graffiti such as “tags” which are mainly the creator’s name, defacing subway trains, buildings and the like. I guess they can be considered as abstract works but to me they are more about ego rather than as works of art created to please and/or make the viewer think. So the exhibition largely left me cold, although there were a few works that provoked some interest.

The Sibelius Monument

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The Wednesday evening while I was in Helsinki was generally sunny. I’d planned a visit to HAM, the Helsinki Art Museum which was just round the corner from my hotel. When I’d finished looking around the exhibitions it was still sunny so I decided to take a walk over to the Sibelius Monument.

Designed by Eila Hiltunen, who was the winner of a competition organised by the Sibelius Society. The monument is sited in Sibelius Park, close to the sea, in  the Töölö district.

It’s made up of approximately 600 hand-textured acid-proof stainless steel tubes of various diameters, welded together in a wave like pattern. The abstract form resulted in some controversy when it was first installed on September 7, 1967.

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Personally, glittering in the sunshine, I rather liked it.

Close by the Monument there’s a sculpture of the face of Sibelius, added by the artist in response to some of the ctiticisms

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It’s a “must see” for visitors to Helsinki, so during the daytime is likely to be surrounded with swarms of tourists arriving by coach. However, on a sunny evening I had it almost to myself.

Ahti and Maija Lavonen – In Harmony

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The main exhibition showing at the Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki during our recent visit was devoted to the works of two Finnish artists, a married couple, Ahti and Maija Lavonen.

The Gallery’s website tells us that

Ahti Lavonen (1928–1970) became one of the leading figures in Finnish painting in the Sixties – a bold experimenter and committed individual who closely followed artistic developments at home and abroad, and who was never afraid to air his opinions in public. His brilliant career came to an abrupt end with his early death in 1970.

The roots of Maija Lavonen’s (1931–) artistic career lay in the traditions of textile art, craftsmanship and a profound understanding of materials. Study, work, exhibiting and commissions formed an integral chain that has extended over six decades. Her choice of materials and techniques is a combination of the old and the new, and always contextually harmonious. Nature provides the prevailing motif in her works.

Ahti, who died relatively young (he was 43) was clearly influenced by a number of his contemporaries elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, and the works on display reflected a number of styles. Here’s a selection.

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Maiji primarily worked in textiles and the exhibition displayed works in the more traditional media and also some more recent works using fibre optics.

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A Visit to the Didrichsen Art Museum

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After arriving in Helsinki late Saturday afternoon, we had a full day on Sunday to explore and do a bit of tourism before my course started on Monday. The weather was rather cold and grey with rain showers so we decided that some indoor rip to activity was the best option. I suggested a visit out to the Didrichsen Art Museum which is a little way out from the city centre on the island of Kuusisaari so we took the metro and bus out and returned via bus and tram. I’d visited during a previous work related trip to Helsinki back in October 2014 when I’d seen an exhibition of works by Edvard Munch.

The museum was originally a private residence owned by enthusiastic Modern Art collectors Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen. It’s an attractive house in a beautiful setting in the woods by the sea – a Modernist building designed by architect Viljo Revell  in 1958-59 and is . An extension was added six years later to house the owners’ art collection.

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The Museum has an extensive collection of works by 20th Century Finnish artists and works by international artists including Picasso, Kandinsky, Miró, Léger, Moore, Giacometti and Arp.  In addition they have a Pre-Columbian art collection and a collection of Oriental art. There’s also a sculpture garden with works displayed at the front of the house and in the wooded gardens at the back of the house leading down to the sea.

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During our visit the museum had two exhibitions. The main one featured works by two Finnish artists, a married couple, Ahti and Maija Lavonen. One of the rooms in the extension basement was displaying a selection of the main works from the Didrichsen modern collection – The Heart of the Didrichsen Collection. The exhibition is a preview of some of the gems of the nearly 100 works which will be shown at Millesgården in Stockholm during the summer of 2018.

I’ll cover the Ahti and Maija Lavonen exhibition in a separate post but here’s a selection of the works from The Heart of the Didrichsen Collection.

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Upright Interior Form (Flower) by Henry Moore

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Mother and child with wave background II by Henry Moore

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Demeter by Jean Arp

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Nu Debout by Pablo Picasso

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Eglise a Marnau by Wassilly Kadinsky

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a small sculpture by Giacometti

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small reclining figure by Henry Moore

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Curved form with inner form (Anima) by Barbara Hepworth

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The Sandman by Salvador Dali

and the sculpture garden.

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Augustus by Bernard Meadows

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Blueberries by Paula Salmela

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Dialogue by Eero Hiironen

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Watergate by Eero Hiironen

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Crosswork by Mauno Hartman

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Mama Africa by Tilla Kekki

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Mama Europaby Tilla Kekki

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Atom Piece by Henry Moore

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Assemble by Lionel Smit

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Sunflower Field by Eila Hiltunen

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Turbulence by Eila Hiltunen

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Arctic Aphrodite by Laila Pullinen

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Crescendo by Laila Pullinen

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Stele deOfferende by Mario Negri

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Irish Gold

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After my visit to the National Gallery of Ireland last Sunday, I took a short walk down Kildare Street to the National Museum (Archaeology). I hadn’t visited for a number of years and as I had an hour to spare before it closed I thought I’d take a look around.

Ór – Ireland’s Gold, an exhibition of findings from the Bronze Age occupied the centre of the ground floor, immediately attracted my attention. There were impressive displays of gold objects from both the early and late Bronze Age showing how gold working techniques and craftsmanship evolved in Ireland from 2400 to 700 BC. The collection includes finds from all over Ireland. The gold they used came from alluvial deposits “panned” from rivers and streams. It wasn’t pure and contained other metals such as copper, lead and even silver.

The earliest objects were relatively simple, discs and crescent shaped neck ornaments known as lunulae, made from flat sheets. Many of them were decorated with designs such as rows of dots, crosses, triangles and zigzags. Just over 100 lunulae have been discovered by archaeologists; 80 in Ireland, so the design is likely to have originated here.

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Over the years techniques developed allowing more complex objects to be created including solid objects, cast or made from bars and ingots. Gold wire was also used producing hair ornaments called lock-rings and thin gold foil was used to cover objects made from other metals such as copper, bronze or lead.

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The most impressive gold objects were in a separate part of the Museum – The Treasury. They were found in 1896 close to the shore of Lough Foyle at Broighter, Co. Derry, part of a hoard of gold objects,  and date from the 1st Century B.C. – the Iron Age.

The Broighter Collar – a hollow tubular neck-ring of hammered sheet gold.

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The Broighter Boat, complete with two rows of nine oars and a paddle rudder for steering, is the earliest depiction of a sailing ship from Ireland. It measures 18.4 cm long by 37.6 cm wide and weighs approximately 85g.

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