Although it's the year of design in Helsinki – the capital of Finland is also the World Design Capital for 2012 – contemporary art events haven't disappeared from the map for cultural tourists. Here are our recommendations for five exhibitions to see in June and July; some of them will be open all summer, through to autumn.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Musta. 1930
Tennis Palace Art Museum, Helsinki
June 8 – September 9, 2012
The modernist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) was one of the most important American artists in the history of world art. She entered the New York art scene around 1916 – several decades before women were allowed to study art at American institutions. In 1946, O'keeffe's solo show opened at MoMA – the first ever exhibition at MoMA devoted solely to a female artist. New Mexico became O'keeffe's cradle of art and permanent safe-haven, which is also where she created her most famous series of works. They feature animal skulls and close-ups of flowers, painted on such impressively large canvases that the compositions become almost abstract to the viewer. Staying faithful to the themes of her paintings, the artist surrounded herself with a bitter-sweet personality, reaching cult-icon status in her own lifetime. O'keeffe's works are rarely seen in European exhibitions, which is why Helsinki's Tennis Palace Art Museum is indulging their visitors by showing the first-ever Georgia O'keeffe solo show in Finland, from June 8 through September 9. More than 60 paintings and drawings can be viewed in the exhibition, as well as a few sculptures, personal items and photographs that illuminate her career and life. The photographs were taken by O'keeffe's husband, the illustrious artist and promoter of modern art, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946).
Riitta Ikonen & Karoline Hjorth, Eyes as Big as Plates. Photo: Riitta Ikonen & Karoline Hjorth
Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki
June 15 – October 7, 2012
If you're looking for the controversial point at which design becomes a work of art, and vice versa, head to the exhibition “Camouflage”. Held at Helsinki's contemporary art museum Kiasma from June 15 through October 7, it's part of the program for World Design Capital Helsinki 2012. It's up to the viewer to decide whether the works – created by 15 participating artists and collectives from around the world – fall into the discipline of contemporary art, or that of design. This may depend on the works' context, or it could even stay unsettled. That is why the exhibition's curator, Leevi Haapala, when revealing the project's conceptual side, called it “Camouflage”. The word designates not only the pattern seen on military fatigues, but also the blending-in of something into its surrounding environment. “The art of disguise is both visual deception and hiding, put to use as a strategy,” says Haapala. The exhibited works are unified by excellent quality in their execution, which reflects both the artists' skills at mastering the most diverse of materials, and their ability to justify the use thereof, no matter the disciplinary context.
Marko Turunen, Comic Transformer, 2012. Photo: VTM KKA, Petri Vir
Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki
March 9 – September 9, 2012
2011 saw the 100th anniversary of the publishing of the first illustrated storybook in Finland (Ilmari Vainio's “Professori Itikaisen tutkimusretki”, 1911). For decades, many authors around the world have been inspired by the Finish comic-book movement, which has experienced a world-wide boom in the last five years. Most artists are put off by the limits and commercial pressures placed on the genre, however, creating a situation in which local comic-book authors are revered and honored in places beyond the borders of Finland. Breaking down these internal barriers and highlighting the synthesis of international and local culture in Finnish comic-book art, the contemporary art museum Kiasma is hosting the exhibition “Eyeballing!”. Showing through September 9, the participating young artists present an unprecedented three-dimensional form of comic-books. The works on display describe the pressure that exists at the borderline of where reality meets illusion. Many of the artists base their stories on personal experience, creating their own kind of surreal, autobiographical fiction.
Item 11 subject of art, 2012
“Anhava” gallery, Helsinki
May 10 – July 13, 2012
The art of Swedish sculptor and performance artist Jacob Dahlgren (1970) is irremovable from his personality and daily life. Through its happy, rhythmic colors, it seems to illustrate the artist's philosophy of life and his approach to work. With amazing ease, the intelligent artist can eat his lunch from a tin, and then make an installation from the tins; or make a sculptural object from pencils that he found in his studio (Item 24 subject of art, 2012); or from saws and other carpentry tools. In Dahlgren's works, objects from daily life are subjected to an idea and are then transformed into abstractions and finely aesthetic installations; these works can be seen through July 13, at Dahlgren's solo show hosted by Anhava gallery.
Heikki Marila. Flowers XXXII. 2009
Carnegie Art Award 2012
Amosa Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki
May 25 - July 30, 2012
Under the auspices of the Carnegie Investment Bank, the Carnegie Art Award was established in 1998 to promote the development of contemporary Nordic painting. In the last decade, the award has been given out once every two years, becoming one of the largest contemporary art projects in Northern Europe. It employs around 30 experts on contemporary art, features several dozens of artists, and entails the publishing of an illustrated book and an exhibition tour showing the works of both candidates and winners; this year's tour will include cities such as Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Winners receive considerable monetary prizes – the first three places receiving one million Swedish kronor, 600 thousand kronor, and 400 thousand kronor, respectively. There's also a scholarship, in the amount of 100 thousand kronor, awarded to one chosen young artist.
The second-to-last stop for the Carnegie Art Award 2012 exhibition is the Amos Anderson Art Museum, where it will be showing until July 30. The Finns can be proud of the fact that this year's winner is one of their own – the painter Heikki Marila (1966), who won with his monumental series of paintings titled “Flowers” (2009). They are a unique and expressive combination of contemporary painting and the symbolism and aesthetics characteristic of the previous century.
Among the 17 artists from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the exposition presents three works from the series Poster Paintings, by the winner of the above-mentioned scholarship – Klara Lidén (Sweden); the paintings of the third place winner – Christian Schmidt-Rasmussen (Denmark); the illusory compositions of second place winner Ann Edholm (Sweden); and of course, the works created by the grand prize winner himself.