I can tell there's going to be a flurry of blog activity in the next few days. I just arrived in Helsinki today and had an amazing evening at Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum's hours are until 8:30pm many nights of the week, so it seemed like the perfect thing to do with a half day. Plus it's a ten to fifteen minute walk from where I'm staying, so no reason not to bop on over.
First of all, can I just say wow! I have been in one of Steven Holl's buildings before--the Bellevue Art Museum, now with an added "s" after the word "art" to sneakily mean that their focus is on contemporary craft these days. I was in the Pacific Northwest Annual the year that CoCA was remodeling and so we got to be the inaugural show for this brand new building. My biggest memory of being there that night was the sweeping ramp leading up to the exhibition hall, and they had all of the artists stand on the ramp while the curator talked to the crowd below.
Kiasma is a much more adventurous building than Bellevue. In fact, I felt a little overwhelmed by it for the first twenty minutes or so, it's so beautiful. First of all, let's talk about the facade. I had no idea that the metal had images etched into the surface. You don't see it from a distance, but as you approach, they pop out. Wow.
Once inside, ticket paid, coat checked, I was able to really appreciate the incredible curves inside the main atrium--I really think it's a lot more effective than the way Gehry uses curves in his work--maybe because I felt more surprised somehow by the way it felt to be in there and yet it all made perfect sense. Holl brings light into the different areas as you travel through with such subtlety--that's another thing I really loved. I arrived before dark and would stop and look outside every opening every chance I got. The large windows in the front are especially nice because this view of downtown Helsinki is a lot like Times Square with the illuminated logos and video screens and people and cars, etc. I felt like this building allowed me to be appreciative of its beauty, witness to the city I'm visiting, and didn't detract from the work being shown.
So there were two art shows on display at Kiasma-- the first one I went to was of landscapes in Kiasma's collection. It was mostly Finnish artists, but a few outsiders were in the mix as well. The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was two wood sculptures by Finnish artist Pasi Karjula. They have that same chunky faceted surface that mine do, so of course I fell head over heels in love at first sight. I have got to get me a chainsaw.
There were some other pieces I liked too, one of which was a really unusual photograph by Carl-Erik Strom. It was a photo of a "landscape on canvas" which basically depicted a couple holding up a thin piece of canvas and you could see the mountain vista behind them through the canvas. Sounds kind of like a one-liner the way I'm describing it, but it was really pretty brilliant. The image had the look of being taken over 50 years ago, but I can't verify that because I didn't take notes on the execution date.
One piece that I spent a long time with was by Lea and Pekka Kantonen - a series of portraits of people in their favorite places. Each person was holding an image of them in that favorite place, presumably taken at an earlier date. The images of indigenous people were taken in Lapland, Mexico, and Arizona U.S. respectively. Many people chose natural settings - one woman chose what I presume to be her backyard because there's a laundry line in both photos, but a beautiful mountain vista behind. Another woman chose a graveyard. One of the people from Lapland chose her kitchen. Two of the portraits were just of the image of the favorite place sitting in the favorite place - with no present day person holding it. I wonder if they had passed away.
I then continued upstairs to see the other exhibit: Wind from the East - Perspectives on Asian Contemporary Art. There was a lot of video work that honestly didn't do much for me. On the lower floors there were some installations that, while very well executed, seemed like metaphors I'd seen before about opression of China, etc. The route which I traveled upwards through Kiasma made me wonder on the third floor if I was at the top. I had to recheck on the fourth floor to see if I was there, and it said that there was a fifth floor too. It's also interesting to walk through because there are these big iron doors closing off areas that automatically open when you approach them. If you don't know what to look for, they could easily look like a wall.
I didn't believe there was much more to see, but somehow I found the fifth floor. Good thing because it turns out, this is where they were hiding the best stuff. The first thing that caught my eye was the work of Yang Zhenzhong - a series of five different massage chairs that had been stripped of their upholstery, but were plugged in so the mechanisms were working. This was absolutely hilarious - because until you figure out what these things are, they just look like curious machines with questionable functionality. I can't find a good image to show you, but did manage to find his website so please click here to see them. (Scroll down to the year 2003 and click on the image that you see with this paragraph.) The piece has a lovely title too: "Then, Edison's Direct Current was surrendered to the Alternating Current."
The other piece in this show by Zhenzhong was a short video of him seemingly holding up a building in Shanghai. It's called "Light as Fuck" and I found on the web a big series of people holding up other huge objects. It's pretty great if you first spot the video when it's just scrolling through this upside down wiggly landscape and then suddenly you see that someone's balancing it on their finger.
There was an extensive series of photos by Hu Yang that reminded me a bit of Larry Sultan's work, only because of the depictions of people in their homes. These pictures hit a wider socio-economic range, and there were quotes at the bottom about their perceptions of happiness in their lives. I think there must have been about 40 images in all, and very compelling. I especially loved this one, where the woman said that they had no money to buy art so they put magazine flyers up like wallpaper.
But the real showstopper was the full room installation by Eko Nuoroho. This room was so incredible--full use of the curved space with a window on one entire wall and concrete floors. There was a video screen on one smaller wall, and painted images on that and the other walls. The floor had vinyl cutouts, and there was one on the wall too. Then there were these amazing tapestries in the mix as well. From a craft standpoint, everything was so well made, and very ironic in their choice of English phrases. It was so refreshing to see an installation artist jump so effortlessly between media and have it all fit together so satisfyingly. This is the last thing I saw at Kiasma, and what a grand finale it was.
So I will leave you now with some more images of the museum itself, but you should also click here to see more from the Kiasma website.