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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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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Jack B Yeats

Having spent a good hour looking at the Expressionist paintings in the Emil Nolde exhibition at the National Gallery, I decided to go and have a look at some favourite paintings by the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats in the Gallery’s permanent collection, who, over his career, developed an Expressionist style.

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Many Ferries (1948)

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910.

Jack began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style and, in my view, most of his paintings, although displaying a clear talent as a draftsman, were nothing particularly special. But in the 1920s there was a major change in his style of painting. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style

Although he is largely unknown outside his native country, the Irish National Gallery have a large collection of his works which span his career and which show how his style changed and evolved over time. Unfortunately, the Gallery doesn’t allow photographs to be taken of most of his paintings on display and only a limited selection can be viewed on their website. But in one of the rooms upstairs, almost hidden away near the collection of Dutch paintings, there’s a small selection of his works shown together with portraits by his father who was also a professional artist. Photography was allowed and these are the ones I’ve included in this post. The NGI is also the home of the Yeats Archive

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The Islandbridge Regatta (1925)

I’d parked my car in Fitzwilliam Square and returning later that afternoon I took the opportunity to have a quick look at number 18, where the artist and his wife moved in 1929, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the NGI

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A little while ago I developed an interest in German Expressionist art and am quite keen to see and find out more about it. So when I was in Dublin last Sunday afternoon, I decided to call into the National Gallery of Ireland to take a look at their latest temporary exhibition, which is devoted to the work of Emil Nolde.

He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde  in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig, close to Denmark (and which had been the area disputed by Denmark and Germany in the mid 19th Century resulting in a war between the two countries). He changed his name to that of his home town, for reasons which probably reflect his political views (more of which later).

In 1906, he joined Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group of Expressionist artists based Dresden, but left after a year. He was a member of the Berlin Secession, from 1908 to 1910, leaving when he fell out with them, and  exhibited with Wassily Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1912. He clearly was found it difficult to work with artists working in a similar style – possibly reflecting his politics. Many of the Expressionists were relatively Radical while he was a German Nationalist who joined the Nazi Party relatively early in 1920. And it’s this latter point which has attracted a lot of attention in reviews of the Exhibition. Can you like and admire work by someone who adhered to such views? Ironically, like other Expressionists, the Nazi regime considered him to be a “Degenerate Artist”, having his pictures removed from public galleries and forbidding to produce any work. Despite this he remained an ardent supporter with anti-Semitic views.

I hadn’t particularly read up on Nolte before I visited the exhibition and wasn’t aware of his obnoxious politics, so this wasn’t something I was thinking about during my visit (although I started to clock this when reading some of the information panels in the exhibition), and I viewed the works with something of an open mind. My impression was that he was a talented artist who painted some quite stunning, colourful pictures in both oil and watercolour, drawings, etchings, and woodcuts. The works on display included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of Berlin café culture, views of the River Elbe, and paintings and drawings from his travels to the South Seas.

As usual, no photos allowed and not many of the pictures from the exhibition are on the NGI website, so here’s only a limited selection.

Party (1911), one of his paintings of Berlin night life before WW1

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A lithograph from a series of 121 identical prints of a young couple, coloured by hand after printing. There were 68 variations, using different colours. 4 of the prints were on display

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Candle Dancers (1912)

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One of several beautiful, dramatic seascapes – Ruffled Autumn Clouds (1927)

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I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. The bright colours and abstract style and the subject matter. the only paintings I didn’t particularly like were some of his religious works. For me, there were no real, obvious, blatant, reference to his political views in the works on display. Even the series of works from his visit to the South Seas as part of the German “Medical Demographic Exhibition” where he was meant to study the “racial characteristics” of the population, were sympathetic portrayals of the indigenous people.

So back to the difficult question. There are plenty of artists whose work I like who held views that were an anathema to me or where it has come to light that they committed some awful, horrific acts (Eric Gill comes to mind – he produced sublime work but abused his daughters). To some extent, Nolde’s support for the Nazis makes me want to dislike his work but I didn’t. There were plenty of other people who supported the Nazis too, who, like Nolde, were “rehabilitated” after the war. And, as I’ve already commented, I couldn’t see any blatant political reference in his work. So I’m not going to say I didn’t like what I saw, but reading up about the artist after seeing the exhibition certainly left something of a sour taste.