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.

Kiasma – Exhibitions

Kiasma is Helsinki’s Modern Art Museum and had just reopened after several months’ shutdown for refurbishment. I’d been disappointed that it wasn’t opened during my visit to Helsinki in November last year so wanted to make sure I had a look round when I was back in he city a couple of weeks ago. It opened on the Sunday, the day after I arrived, but I had other things planned, so instead took advantage of one of the mid week late evenings on the Thursday.

There are three exhibitions showing at the moment. The “headline” event a major retrospective of the works of the American photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe.

Consisting of more than 250 works, the retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma offers a broad overview of the key periods of Mapplethorpe’s career. In their aspiration for perfection, Mapplethorpe’s pictures blend beauty and eroticism with pain, pleasure and death.

Mapplethorpe was certainly an outstanding photographer who pushed the boundaries in terms of his technique and, especially, his subject matter. There were warnings plastered all over the gallery about the explicit nature of many of the photographs. He’s most noted for his “celebrity portraits” of Patti Smith and the many people he knew in New York and also for his sculptural depictions of the human body, and parts thereof (especially he more intimate parts of the male anatomy).

My view? I liked about half of his photos, but the subject matter of the other half was not to my taste at all.

The other two exhibitions featured works from the Finnish Museum’s collection.

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Face to Face – Portrait Now

presents works from the Kiasma Collections and other contemporary artworks through the theme of portraiture. While some of the works are traditional self-portraits, many of the artists focus on the body or physical presence instead of the face and external likeness.

My favourite exhibition, however, was Elements, which was showing on the top floor of the building and which

explores our relationship with the world and the forces of nature through works of art from the Kiasma Collections.

Most, if not all, of the works on display had a scientific aspect to them – either through the concept or theme of the work or the materials used to create it.

I particularly liked this work by Mario Merz, Untitled (Igloo), 1989, which dominated one of the rooms

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Dialogue (2014) by Anssi Pulkkinen & Taneli Rautiainen, made from LED lights supported on a suspended aluminium frame, was inspired by Viginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, in particular a dialogue at the beginning of the second part of the novel.

It was positioned very effectively so that as the dark drew in the sculpture was reflected in the glass of the large window overlooking the adjacent gardens and the Music Centre

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and could also be seen from outside the building

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An interesting work, very effectively displayed.

Think of One Thing, 2002 by Mariele Neudecker was also very interesting and effective. Miniature mist-covered mountain tops displayed in glass tanks.

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Kiasma – Architecture

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Kiasma – the Modern Art Museum in Helsinki reopened after being shut for refurbishment the day after I arrived in Helsinki for my recent visit.

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.

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I’d sum up the architecture with three words – curves, light and space.

From the outside it’s a structure of glass and aluminium cladding.

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Large windows at both ends of the building provide views over the city.

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Inside there hardly seems to be a straight line in sight.

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Access between levels is via a series of curving ramps and stairways

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Walls of windows and skylights bring in plenty of the limited Nordic light to illuminate the interior.

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