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This Summer’s Cultural Offer of Mänttä in Central Finland 0

An express interview with Päivi Viherkoski, Head of Development of Serlachius Museums

Opened in 2014, the Gösta Pavilion is a design gem tucked away in the small town of Mänttä in Central Finland. Designed by architects Boris Bežan, Héctor Mendoza and Mara Partida from the Barcelona-based MX_SI, the building has already won major architectural prizes as well as the hearts of contemporary art lovers. This summer, the pavilion will explore its surroundings with the ‘Touching from a Distance’ exhibition. It also takes a look at new directions in outsider art with an exhibition of works from the Korine and Max E. Ammann Collection. In October, the pavilion celebrates its first anniversary with a major exhibition featuring the German artist Anselm Kiefer.

Could you introduce to us the cultural background of the town of Mänttä? What are the things that everybody should know about it?

An industrialist called G.A. Serlachius established a groundwood mill in Mänttä in 1868 (because he could buy these quite cheap rapids to have power to make paper). The groundwood mill had to overcome a multitude of practical and financial difficulties in its early years. Mänttä was a remote place (as it still is), far from the main transport routes of those days. The pulp that the mill produced had to be drawn by horses to Hämeenlinna and from there on to St. Petersburg via Viipuri. It was only in the 1870s that communications improved significantly. His other major achievements included arranging for the new railway line between Helsinki and the north-western region of Ostrobothnia to run east of Lake Näsijärvi and building a branch line between Mänttä and Vilppula. G.A. Serlachius has a place in the industrial history of Finland as one of the pioneers who created links with markets in Western Europe. He carried through a project to arrange winter shipping services to take goods from the Finnish port of Hanko to Copenhagen and Britain. It was also on his initiative that Finland´s first icebreaker was acquired.

Gösta Pavilion

So it was due to G.A. Serlachius and his nephew Gösta Serlachius’ (who was director of the mills after G.A.) activity that Mänttä grew and flourished. Those two industrialists developed Mänttä and collected art. There were four generations of Serlachiuses directing the mills from the 1860`s to 1986 when the G.A. Serlachius Ltd. ceased to exist due to merging. For decades the company provided the residents of Mänttä with everything they needed, from nurseries and schools to a church and cemetery. The mill owners commissioned the best architects to design the most important buildings, such as mills, head office, the houses of the workers, etc. Many of those buildings are now used for tourist purposes: for example, the former headquarters of G.A. Serlachius Ltd. is now Serlachius Museum Gustaf; the clubhouse of the mill clerks and managers is a hotel and a restaurant; the former home of Gösta Serlachius now houses the Gösta Contemporary Art Museum and the former ski chalet in the forest is a wine tavern. 

Mänttä is home to great museums and great festivals: every summer the town hosts the most important contemporary summer art festival in Finland, the  Mänttä Art Festival. Every August you can visit the Mänttä Music Festival, an international meeting point for enthusiasts of piano music featuring established world-class pianists and promising new stars performing at the Gösta Art Museum. 

A couple of years ago, Mänttä with its 6000 inhabitants applied for the title of the European Capital of Culture. Turku won the competition in Finland, but we who live here still believe that small is beautiful! 

Claude Monet, Haystack in the Evening Sun, 1891. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts foundation. Credit photo: Rauno Träskelin

What should everybody know about the Serlachius Museums and their collection?

G.A. Serlachius believed that Finland´s future lay in education and culture.  One of the ways in which his patriotism manifested itself was his support for ‘Finnish-minded’ visual art. He closely followed the lives of many artists, particularly Akseli Gallen-Kallela and sculptor Emil Wikström. G.A. Serlachius laid the foundations of the art collection. His successor Gösta Serlachius wanted it to be as comprehensive as possible and, accordingly, his initial purchases included, for example, 17th-century Italian and Dutch art. The most important part of the collection, however, consists of the works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Albert Edelfelt, Helene Schjerfbeck and other Finnish artists active in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The collection also has its own international superstars, such as Claude Monet’s ‘Haystack in the Evening Sun’. However, Gösta also acquired works of the artists of his own time. He followed with interest a number of young artists, supported them through his purchases, building a very personal art collection this way. The Serlachius Museums have long been known for their old art. Now the foundation has returned to its roots and, following Gösta Serlachius’ example, is acquiring contemporary art. The Serlachius Museums wish, in the manner of the founder of the foundation, to create a personal contemporary art collection in which certain artists are strongly represented. For example, the world-acclaimed works of the video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila are now a key part of the foundation’s collection.

The Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation continually adds to its collection. Regarding old art, the foundation collects works of particular significance that appear in the art market and which belong in public museum collections. In terms of contemporary art, acquisitions are also actively made from the museum’s own exhibitions.

The Gustaf Museum’s collection includes, for example, items relating to Mänttä’s industrial past, products made in Mänttä mills, and an archive of architectural drawings that tell the town’s history. Actually, more than objects, the Gustaf Museum collects stories. Heritage collections mounted to accompany the actual exhibitions have added many stories to the museum’s archives.

Could you describe the curatorial practice behind the Gösta Pavilion programme?

The Gösta Museum always shows works from the foundation’s own collection and its most esteemed items. In addition, each year some five temporary exhibitions are shown in the pavilion, presenting individual artists or topical themes highlighted by our curators. Old masters hang side by side with newcomers. The field of international contemporary art is actively monitored. The Serlachius Museums particularly examine their own collection of old art in relation to the contemporary art of today. That is why many exhibitions are a combination of the old and the new. 

Anselm Kiefer, Am Anfang/At the Beginning, 2008. Collection Grothe, Duisburg. Credit photo: Charles Duprat

In October, the pavilion celebrates its first anniversary with a major exhibition featuring the German artist Anselm Kiefer. Could you tell us more about this?

The exhibition will show around 30 of Kiefer’s monumental works from the German Grothe Collection. The collection, named after its collector Hans Grothe, is the most extensive private collection of Kiefer’s work in the world. In his works, Anselm Kiefer has created his own unique world in which he utilises multi-layered references to history, literature and philosophy. Early in his career, Keifer addressed the history of Germany, the Nazi Germany in particular, in his work. Later, his subject matter switched more to  the Jewish and Christian mythology. Kiefer has worked in painting, sculpture and installation art. The most important works of the Grothe Collection are Kiefer’s typical monumental paintings, in which, in addition to paint, he uses lead, cement, dried plants, seeds, glass, soil and barbed wire. Serlachius Museums’ partner in producing the exhibition and bringing it to Mänttä is Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur, located in Bonn. The exhibition is curated by the organisation’s director, Professor Walter Smerling. 

The collection has previously been exhibited in Germany and Spain. In 2017, it will be housed more permanently in Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany.  

Please mention three other program’s highlights!

The exhibition called ‘The Model and the Mad Painter’ is a must-see show. Combining literary texts with artworks and installation architecture, it boldly breaks down the boundaries of a traditional art exhibition. The title of the exhibition, ‘The Model and the Mad Painter’, refers to Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who lived and worked at the Ekola cottage in Keuruu in the late 1880s. He was considered to be mad among the local people and was often referred to as "the Depictor”. The exhibition features Finnish art from the Golden Age as well as examples of Modernism, following the timeline of art history. This time, the well-known story of Finnish art will be told from the viewpoint of the models sitting for the works of art, rather than from that of the artists and art history. The owner of Ekola Farm Eerikki, a nude model posing at an art school in  Paris and a butterfly that has landed on a worker's trousers have all a chance to express their view. Fictional texts by Riikka Ala-Harja are backed up by facts from art history. The exhibition was curated by Laura Kuurne, the Chief Curator for the Serlachius Museums, and its visual layout was designed by Tarja Väätänen, the scenographer of the Serlachius Museums.

‘Touching from the Distance’. Petros Efstathiadis

‘Touching from the Distance’: A group of photographic artists were photographing Mänttä for ten days in late September 2014. From these pictures, Ville Lenkkeri, who has a Mänttä background, has assembled ‘Touching from a Distance’, the Gösta Pavilion’s main exhibition for  the summer of 2015. Each of the artists undertook a personal project in which they reflected their encounters with the town through their working methods, backgrounds and outlooks. The purpose was to expose Mänttä to the eyes of outsiders as well as to independent and innovative photographic analysis. There was no notion that the artists should engage in window-dressing. Some of the artists were Finnish, some came from abroad. To some, Mänttä was familiar from previous visits or hearsay; to some it was just like any other small town among the host of small towns in the world. Some came to Mänttä with a prepared plan. Others wanted to photograph without a plan. The artists represented at the ‘Touching from a Distance’ exhibition are Roger Ballen (USA/South Africa), Elina Brotherus (Finland), Petros Efstathiadis (Greece), Aino Kannisto (Finland), Trish Morrissey (UK), Esko Männikkö (Finland), Pekka Niittyvirta (Finland), Inta Ruka (Latvia) and Pekka Turunen (Finland). According to Ville Lenkkeri, the artists he selected usually depict people in their natural environment and work on their exhibitions for a long time. This time, however, they had to complete a project in just a few days. According to Lenkkeri, this was actually a mission impossible that nevertheless proved to be a success. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that there is now a house inside a museum: In autumn 2014, Roger Ballen, who has something of a cult following worldwide, built an extraordinary installation in a abandoned house condemned for demolition. This installation has now been transferred in its entirety to Art Museum Gösta. Entitled Resurrected, the installation includes photographs in addition to the house.  

‘Touching from the Distance’. Roger Ballen

Even though you did not ask about the Gustaf Museum, I will now point out its exhibition ‘Paper Devil’ as one of the highlights. ‘Paper Devil’ offers an intensely dramatised and visual experience. The stages of the mill owner G.A. Serlachius' life take the viewers from one scene to the next and from one atmosphere to another. Serlachius himself, his family, enemies and friends each have their say. The exhibition employs means of presentation better known at the theatre. At the heart of  it, there is dramaturgy, a strong story.

And a few words on the services for visitors: the Serlachius Museums are located in a small community, in a beautiful lakeside and forest setting; the museums are as much an active promoter of tourism as a cultural institution. Visitors are offered segmented services ranging from interactive guidance to bicycle tours that include the town’s historical and natural sites. Visitors can enjoy culture equally well in the Gösta Museum’s sculpture park and island or at a brunch in the square in front of the Gustaf Museum. The museums are known for their dramatised guided tours. The Art Museum’s Restaurant Gösta is an exceptional culinary tourism destination, offering pure flavours created by top chefs. Throughout the year, the Serlachius Museums host many events for local residents as well as visitors from further afield: concerts, theatre, sporting events and expert lectures; the list of the biggest events include the Food Camp, a rendezvous for top Finnish and international chefs.