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HAM project visualisation. © HAM

Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) Reopening in September 0

An express-interview with the museum’s director, Maija Tanninen-Mattila

Not only is the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) reopening with new spaces, but it has also reworked its policy towards visitors so as to be more accommodating. As a result, the written and unwritten rules of the museum have been shortened, and guests of the museum can now experience the museum like never before. On 25 September 2015 the museum will be re-opened with the exhibition Ai Weiwei @ Helsinki, a solo show by the famous Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. This will be the first time that Ai Weiwei's work will be on view in Finland, and in fact, two of the pieces will be having their “world premier”.

Could you give us a brief introduction to the museum’s collection? What should everybody know about the Helsinki Art Museum?

HAM is an art museum created for Helsinki residents by the City of Helsinki. The museum focuses on modern and contemporary art, and its works are located throughout Helsinki – in parks, daycare centres, schools and public offices. It is a museum the size of a city.

The collection consists of more than 9000 works, 4000 of which are located all around Helsinki. This collection belongs to the people in the city.

The heart of the collection is the Bäcksbacka Collection, which was donated to the City of Helsinki in 1976. The estate of Leonard and Katarina Bäcksbacka donated a collection of 448 works of art to the city, and the Helsinki Art Museum was founded.

The emphasis of the collection is on 20th- and 21st-century Finnish art, but it also includes international works and older Finnish masterpieces. The collection grows from both yearly purchases and donations.

Tennis Palace. © Helsinki Art Museum / Maija Toivanen

What is the protocol for exhibiting collections at HAM?

HAM’s exhibitions are located in a building called Tennis Palace, in the heart of Helsinki. The museum puts on approximately three to five large exhibitions at a time, featuring both international and Finnish art.

The downstairs is dedicated to the collections: half of the space is filled with the Bäcksbacka Collection, and one quarter presents newer works from the collection. Another quarter of the downstairs' floor is called the HAM Gallery which, in a rotational manner (one exhibition period is seven weeks), presents new Finnish art and up-and-coming artists.

For the re-opening of the museum, one of the collection-based exhibitions on view will be “100 Years of Taidesalonki”, which will be displayed in the Bäcksbacka Gallery; it will include works from the original Bäcksbacka Collection and also other works that have been exhibited in the 100-year-old Bäcksbacka Gallery (called Taidesalonki). Another exhibition will be “Aftermath”, by IC-98. HAM Gallery will present the works of Reija Meriläinen.

Next year we will open the Tove Jansson Gallery, which will display her wall paintings and oil paintings.

The main idea in the collection exhibitions is to give the people of Helsinki a better chance to enjoy their own collection. There will be no entrance fee to at least half of the collection exhibitions.

Viljo Savikurki. Sokerityttö, 1956. © HAM / Hanna Kukorelli

In the press release it was stated that the museum has examined the wishes and needs of current and future customers with the help of “service design”. What are the biggest changes in the museum's service concept?

HAM’s exhibition space will double, and the use of the new spaces has been planned hand-in-hand with the services we will offer. The museum will offer more free access for all: two of the exhibitions and the new public spaces will open up the museum, thereby making it easier to, for example, pop by the museum and see an exhibition while waiting for your movie to begin (the Tennis Palace also hosts Finland’s most modern cinema center – with 14 screens). It will also be easier to experience art in public spaces, including even lavatories.

We will also make it easier to find the museum by making the museum more visible both within and outside of the Tennis Palace. Information on exhibitions and museum services will be communicated to the public by digital screens located around the building. Accessibility will be enhanced by adding more stairs to the building, and increasing the number of elevators to the museum.

Museum visitors will be encouraged to experience the museum in their own way; the museum is seen as an interface between the audience and the art. Methods of encouragement will be further developed with the help of professionals, as well as with input coming from both regular and potential visitors. The HAM Club will offer benefits and exclusive events for its members (the club is free for all to join). HAM Corner, located on the street level of Tennis Palace, will add even more events to the museum’s services.

In connection with real-life development, the digital experience will also be improved. The website will be designed and built in a totally new way, and the museum will also increase its activity on social media channels. The role of public art will be greater in the sphere of digital media, and the audience will be offered easier ways in which to discover the public art collection. For example, there will be special routes designed for runners and cyclists to use to explore outdoor statues and installations .

We have had help with the service design from a group called City Designers. They work for a project called Design Driven City, and their website offers more detailed info on the process:

Ai Weiwei. © Gao Yuan

Could you tell us more about the upcoming Ai Weiwei exhibition? What is the main curatorial idea behind the exhibition?

Ai Weiwei @ Helsinki is a retrospective exhibition with the theme of wood. Weiwei has used wood throughout his career, and in Helsinki we will see works representing his use of this material. The new pieces, Garbage Containers and White House, will have their world premiere in Helsinki. In addition to installations and sculptures, there will be some photographs from his Study of Perspective series. These photos were taken by Weiwei when he visited Helsinki 2001.

What are some highlights of the museum's programme for the rest of the year?

The opening exhibitions from IC-98 and in Taidesalonki will carry on until January 2016, and the Ai Weiwei one will last through February 2016. Highlights for the 2016 programme will be Yayoi Kusama; Finnish modernism in art, architecture, design and photography; and, of course, Tove Jansson. This year we will start a new collaboration with the street art scene in Helsinki, and we aim to produce a book and an exhibition for 2018.