Autumn Is Coming

In Finland, the long Covid lull makes local artists and dialogue appear in a new light.

DIS, A Good Crisis, 2018. This autumn, the New York-collective DIS is shown at Åbo konstmuseum.

After the long Covid lull, there are plenty of signs that the Finnish art scene harbours a pent-up need to gather, discuss, show, and look ahead. Direct references to acute crisis awareness and the concomitant ecological, technological, social, and cultural aspects feel inevitable. An interesting consequence of the restrictive and quarantine-oriented life is that local areas, artists, and dialogue now appear in a new light. So, it’s good to see that, in addition to the more obvious rounds in the capital region and Turku, there is also reason to embark on a trip to the countryside, to smaller cities such as Vaasa, Seinäjoki, Mänttä, and Hämeenlinna.

In the coastal town of Vaasa there is a regional cluster of museums and exhibition spaces. The main show there this fall is a retrospective of Jan-Erik Andersson’s 40-year career at the Ostrobothnian Museum. Andersson is known for his multimedia works, often playfully handled forms, and techniques which have mostly circled around his building project Life on a Leaf from 2009. The leaf shaped house was built as a part of Andersson’s doctoral dissertation in artistic research, in which modernist architecture’s approach to visual art is put to the test.

A bit inland, the kunsthalle in Seinäjoki is a newcomer to the scene and has become highly appreciated. With an ambitious, and often Nordic-focused programme, it functions as one of the few medium-sized contemporary art institutions in the country. The fall programme continues with new works by Tehran-born Bita Razavi, one of the season’s several smaller exhibitions dealing with artificial intelligence and the impact of algorithms on our perception of reality.

The journey continues south to central Finland, where the Serlachius Art Museum Gösta in Mänttä is an important powerhouse. The museum always has up to five parallel exhibitions on view and this fall features a brand new animation by the duo IC 98, shown at the same time as Art Odyssey, a group exhibition with works inspired by space travel by, among others, Lauri Astala, Roland Persson, Joseph Popper, Magnus Wallin, and Charlotta Östlund.

The next stop is Hämeenlinna, whose art museum will host an exhibition of artists nominated for the Ars Fennica Award, the largest art award in the Nordic region, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. For this edition, the nominees are established artists: Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Anne-Karin Furunes, Jesper Just, Viggo Wallensköld, and, here too, Magnus Wallin. The winner will be chosen by an expert from the international art world in the spring of 2022 and will be rewarded with a sum of EUR 50,000.

Jan-Erik Andersson, Life on a Leaf, 2009. The Ostrobothnian Museum in Vaasa mounts a retrospective of Jan-Erik Andersson’s 40-year career.

In Turku, the art museum will show a collaboration with the Swedish National Museum which features art spanning five centuries: from Lucas Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt, and Rubens to Carl Larsson and Vilhelm Hammershøi. Smaller exhibitions on view at the same time will include the Argentine-born Axel Straschnoy, the New York-based collective DIS, and new works by Aurora Reinhard.

The city’s other museum, Wäinö Aaltonen’s Museum, on the opposite side of the Aura River, brings together young Finnish artists on issues of diversified gender. The exhibition Spektrum has been produced in collaboration with the association for rainbow families and Turku Pride, among others. An interesting parallel programme, Cosmic Archeology, focuses on a series of works that examine deeply rooted cultural habits and myths.

 At the artist-run Kunsthalle Turku another elaboration on the relationship between artificial intelligence and human imagery will be on view: a collaboration between the painter Sami Lukkarinen and the futurist Roope Mokka. The exhibition will accumulate and process photos taken by viewers as part of a commentary on the collective drive to create images of ourselves.

Niina Vatanen, Shipwreck, 2021. Kunsthalle Helsinki’s main exhibition this autumn is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki School of Photography.

In Helsinki, the galleries have kicked off the fall season, and many artist-driven projects at Forum Box, Publics, and Galleria Huuto, among others, are sustaining the art scene on a grassroots level. Sinne and Kohta are important complements, as is Kunsthalle Helsinki, where the main exhibition this fall is an exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki School of Photography. The Helsinki School emerged from the photography programme at the University of Art and Design, now Aalto University, during the mid-1990s. Nowadays, Berlin is the operational centre for the group, which has mainly become known as a way for younger photographers to establish themselves within the network of international photography fairs while still students. The exhibition features works by twenty-eight artists from different generations and thus constitutes a history of the development of Finnish photography from both an aesthetic and a commercial perspective.

That Kiasma closed for a year of renovations has hardly been noticeable in Covid times, but expectations around this spring’s ARS 22 are gradually starting to rise. This fall’s main event in the Helsinki museum world is the big Bill Viola exhibition at Amos Rex. Viola’s spectacular visuals will fill the museum’s underground arched galleries and are a safe bet for consolidating Amos Rex’s profile as a blockbuster venue, with queues extending for blocks through the city centre. 

Shubhangi Singh, Bringing a Poem to a Gunfight, 2021. Singh is part of Secured – Politics of Bodies and Spaces at Artsi Art Museum in Vantaa.

In the capital’s neighbouring towns, there are several spots to visit – all within reach by commuter train. For example, the Sinkka Art Museum in Kerava, where ten contemporary Finnish artists have created new works on the theme of air and the atmosphere for the exhibition On the air. Artsi Art Museum in Vantaa has established a collaboration with Frame Finland on the theme of hospitality and security within the ‘Rehearsing Hospitalities’ programme; the exhibition Secured – Politics of Bodies and Spaces features the artists Panos Balomenos, Forensic Architecture, Elis Hannikainen & Vappu Jalonen, Flo Kasearu, Kristina Norman, Sepideh Rahaa, Annika Rauhala, Shubhangi Singh, and Hito Steyerl.

Espoo Museum of Modern Art (EMMA) presents an extensive exhibition of the painter Konrad Mägi’s (1878–1925) work. Mägi is regarded as one of the main figures in the golden age of Estonian modernism. EMMA will also show a project by the artist-couple Leena and Kalle Nio, as well as the commissioned installation Tracing Boundaries by Japanese-born Chiharu Shiota.

The forced hiatus of over a year has given the art world time for reflection and the opportunity to catch its breath. Despite announced cuts to Finland’s culture budget and unclear regulations for public events going forward, the need for art as a forceful source of energy feels both palpable and deep.

Konrad Mägi, Meditation (landscape with lady), 1915–1916. Emma Museum in Esbo presents an extensive exhibition with Konrad Mägi, one of the main figures in the golden age of Estonian modernism.