Masslessness for the Masses

A digital installation by the Japanese collective teamLaB has brought Helsinki’s new art museum Amos Rex twice as many visitors as expected.

The exhibition halls of Amos Rex are located underground. People are invited to spend time on the “roof” of the museum, in the newly designed courtyard. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo.

The first season positions Amos Rex, the latest addition to Helsinki’s museum district, as a museum with enthusiastic visitors and large-scale exhibitions

The museum, which opened its doors at the end of August, is located in central Helsinki, just across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, and a stone’s throw from the Ateneum Art Museum; Kunsthalle Helsinki and Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) are also nearby.

Though Amos Rex is a new brand, the museum itself has a longer history. Amos Anderson Art Museum was founded in 1965, following the death of the Finnish entrepreneur, newspaper publisher, and art collector Amos Anderson in 1961. While the original museum closed after the opening of Amos Rex, one floor of the old building will be preserved as Amos Anderson’s home museum.

The entrance of Amos Rex is in the Lasipalatsi (Glass Palace), which has been considered one of central Helsinki’s landmarks since it was built in 1936. After entering the museum, visitors are guided downstairs to the galleries, which are located underground. Outside, the museum invites people to play on its “roof,” and the conical domes rising in the courtyard have already given Amos Rex a reputation as an Instagram friendly museum.

Even the inagural exhibition, Massless by the Japanese collective teamLaB, has been a social media favorite. The collective – which consists of 500 engineers, mathematicians, artists, coders, animators, graphic designers, and architects – has realized immersive digital installations in several large galleries where visitors are surrounded by natural elements. One installation, Black Waves (2016), is inspired by the Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849) and consists of large digital waves washing over the museum walls; another presents a whirl of crows spinning around the audience; and a third produces a flow of light directed towards the museum’s high ceiling.

The central installation, however, is Graffiti Nature: Lost, Immersed and Reborn (2018). Here, visitors are invited to draw different creatures to populate the piece’s ecosystem. After the drawings have been scanned by museum staff, the organisms – be they lizards, birds, or flowers – come to life and start roaming the museum hall. The sensation of getting lost in the installation is part of the experience, an effect created by flashing lights, loud sounds, and constantly-moving images that make it hard to see where one came from, and which way to continue.

As an opening exhibition, Massless has been a huge success, attracting twice as many visitors as expected. At the beginning of December, 200,000 people had visited the museum. Continuing next year, Amos Rex will focus on 20th century Modernism, contemporary art, and the art of ancient cultures. The new exhibition season will start in February with the first Rene Magritte exhibition presented in Finland.

teamLaB, Graffiti Nature, 2018. Installation view. Photo: ING Media.