Art Exhibitions

Juxtapositions –Kimmo Kaivanto & Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Gallen-Kallela Museum 10 February – 26 May 2024 Tarvaspää, Espoo

The Juxtapositions exhibition engages in a dialogue on the similarities and differences of Gallen-Kallela’s and Kaivanto’s art. The focus is not necessarily on the artists’ best-known works, but also on their diversions, sidesteps and sketches. The exhibition is based mainly on the collections of the Gallen-Kallela Museum and Kimmo Kaivanto Foundation, and Kimmo Sarje (PhD) is the curator of the exhibition.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) and Kimmo Kaivanto (1932–2012) were among the most important Finnish artists of their generation. Their talent as drawers, narrative approach and versatility of expression unite the masters. As painters, both artists blazed a trail with their renditions of Finnish landscapes. Gallen-Kallela and Kaivanto were keen builders and designers. Both also took a political stance: Gallen-Kallela as a national romantic and adjutant to General C. G. Mannerheim and Kaivanto with his pacifist and ecological artworks.

The exhibition begins in the studio of Tarvaspää’s artist residence with an array of artworks connected to or inspired by the artists’ almost mythical workspaces. The place is an exhibit in itself, complemented by a series of sketches of the house and a painting depicting the construction of the building. The wilderness studio of Kalela is presented in moonlight and Kaivanto’s Arkkusaari is shown lit by a flash of lightning. Also included are artworks of the interior of the Arkkusaari studio and the south end of the building. The artist’s Images on Arkkusaari 24.–29.6.1974 (Aleatoric Landscape) aims to capture the spirit of Arkkusaari.

Hugo Simberg’s graphic prints of Gallen-Kallela tell a story of friendship. Kaivanto’s painting Simberg’s Scale (2000) is a tribute to a respected colleague. Decadence and decay are touched upon in the so-called “etching room” leading from the studio to the rotunda, where Kaivanto’s Pub Genius (2002) and Gallen-Kallela’s Martyr in the Cause of Art (1893) exchange views.

The war-themed drawings from Kaivanto’s childhood showcased in a display case in the space leading to the rotunda provide an introduction to the themes exhibited there. In them, war and warriors and the act of questioning them take stock, whilst the love of a mother and a spouse weighs up the cost of heroism. Is it their instinct that beckons or the longing for freedom?

The verses of the workers’ poet Kössi Kaatra in the wake of the General Strike in Tampere Central Square in 1905 parallel with Väinämöinen and his troops defending the Sampo; Joukahainen harbouring thoughts of revenge; Kullervo close to death heading on a crusade, and the criticism of the military junta that tormented Greece in the late 1960s. Gallen-Kallela’s Mannerheim’s Lackey (1919), a portrait of the general’s military servant, and Kaivanto’s Grandson serigraph (1969), which explores men’s eroticism, raise questions and the latter in particular evokes associations with Tom of Finland’s male images.

Since the 1960s, Kaivanto’s art has offered a reminder of the fragility of nature and life under the stranglehold of our technological civilisation and greedy economic thinking. The difference with Gallen-Kallela, who praised wilderness, is evident. The parallels drawn between his Lake Keitele painting (1905) and Kaivanto’s When the Sea Dies (1970) serigraph illustrate the paradigm shift.

In Gallen-Kallela’s paintings, nature in one’s home country appears both as a value in itself and as a factor of national identity. Ultramarine, the blue of Kaivanto, where beauty and freedom merge, dominates comprehensively his collage So Willingly, So Willingly (1969) and links it to the mountainside in Gallen-Kallela’s Hwandoni Hills (1910). Kaivanto’s painting Spring Light (1964) appears as an expressive and Informalist development of Gallen-Kallela’s painting Lynx’s Den (1906). Both works of art are declarations of love tinged with longing for Finnish winter landscapes which are enlivened by the promise of spring.

Towards the end of the exhibition, Gallen-Kallela’s African souvenirs – the trophies exhibited in a display case – are juxtaposed with Kaivanto’s Balance collage (1968), which reflects on the state of the world. In the artwork, an awl nocked in a bow is aimed at an eggshell on the surface of which the artist has drawn a few of the meridians. The differences between Gallen-Kallela’s and Kaivanto’s concepts of nature become crystallised. Humans with their strengths and weaknesses as the masters of nature turn into humans as an inseparable part of the unity of nature.

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