Last Updated on March 8, 2023

Located in the heart of Helsinki, Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery is Finland’s premier art institution. Renowned known for its significant collection of Finnish and international art from the 19th century to the modern era Ateneum Art Museum reopening to the public has been set for 14 April 2023. Coinciding with the reopening of the museum, the new collection exhibition A Question of Time is the result of an extensive rehang of the museum’s collection. It will include over 400 works by 200 artists including old favourites, never-before-seen and rarely exhibited works, as well as modern and contemporary art.

Works that have rarely or never been seen in the Ateneum galleries include Erkki Heikkilä’s Floating Log Bundles (1970), Unto Pusa’s Forest (1957), Reidar Särestöniemi’s Redbearded Moor (1970), Kain Tapper’s Heavy Rain (1973), Pirkko Lepistö’s Kesähypyt (1972), Essi Renvall’s Head of a Boy (1963) and Rikhard Hall’s painting Odalisque (1883), which was last on view in 1975. The exhibition will also feature contemporary art from the Finnish National Gallery’s collection, such as Toni R. Toivonen’s Giving Birth and Dying Still (2016).

“The value of a memory institution such as ours is in sustaining a continuum and an understanding of why and how we have arrived where we are today,” Marja Sakari, Director of Ateneum Art Museum, said. “The works selected for the new collection exhibition communicate and create knowledge and meanings although the way we interpret works depends on the viewer and the time.”

Ateneum’s collection includes over 20,000 works, and the museum houses the most significant artworks in Finnish art history by artists such as Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Helene Schjerfbeck and Ellen Thesleff, as well as international artists such as Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Vilhelm Hammershøi and Edvard Munch. The museum holds four centuries of work and A Question of Time looks at all of them.

With a renewed focus on how the collection has formed over time, and with content that will be updated over time, it aims to challenge the way in which the collection of the Finnish National Gallery has traditionally been viewed. Instead of the traditional, chronological approach, A Question of Time features four themes that run through different eras.

One exhibition, four topical themes

The four themes of the Ateneum Art Museum reopening presentations – The Age of Nature, Images of a People, Modern Life and Art and Power – are at the heart of current topics of debate in society. How have power structures, the history of ideas, chance and individuals affected the formation of the collection? Why were certain acquisitions made and others not? These questions open the Finnish National Gallery’s collection to reinterpretation. 

The Age of Nature: how is nature changing?

“Are we the masters of nature, with the power to use other species as resources? Or are we part of a delicate fabric of species, upon which our own lives rest?” ask doctoral researcher Mariia Niskavaara and the curator of exhibitions Anne-Maria Pennonen – the curators of this theme. “At a time when our environment is threatened by a climate catastrophe and mass extinction, we turn to our national art treasures to ask new questions. How should we re-examine these works in a time when nature is under threat?’”

Images of a People: how is Finnishness portrayed?

“Many of the most famous works of the Ateneum Art Museum are associated with the spread of the 19th-century nationalistic view of Finland. We wanted to deal with the building of the Finnish national identity in the visual arts, and ask who is excluded,” project leader of the collection exhibition and the curator of the theme, the chief curator of collections, Timo Huusko, said.

Modern Life: how does it feel to live in our modern time?

“Throughout the 20th century, artists have depicted the conflicting emotions brought about by urbanisation and technological development,” senior researcher and curator of collections, Anu Utriainen, said. “These works deal with subjects ranging from a belief in progress to anxiety, utopias and dystopias, the rhythm and joys of the city, alongside feelings of alienation.”

Art and Power: who holds the power to decide what images we see?

“This theme highlights passionate lovers and preservers of art, and wielders of power – the collectors, donors and museum directors, who have influenced the formation of the Ateneum art collection,” curator of collections Hanne Selkokari said. “The field of art manifests itself as a network in which money, power, relationships, and chance have an influence on what images are included in the Finnish National Gallery’s collection for us to see.”

Looking back through the Ateneum Art Museum reopening collection will provide clarity when looking forward.

“When we engage with art, we are not alone with our big questions and feelings,” Sakari said. “To understand our part in this time, we must take a look through the ages: past, present, and future. The Ateneum art collection, which includes works dating back as far as the 18th century, offers a unique opportunity to do just this. I hope that the exhibition will bring people together and encourage a joint discussion.”

Author

  • Chadd Scott

    Chadd Scott is an arts contributor with Forbes and the founder of See Great Art, where he writes about his travels from big city museums to small town galleries in search of great art.

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