Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sculpture of Finland

OK - this is not a sculpture, it's a painting by Gallen Kallela
that I coincidentally found while browsing an art magazine,
but I think it helps explain the Finnish phenomenon,
discussed here by Kenneth Rexroth.

(BTW -- Gallen-Kallela is best known for his later illustrations of the Finnish national epic -- but I find this early figure to be much more compelling)

Heikki Konttinen (1910-1989)

There's something ancient, mysterious, dreamy about them,
so as they abstract away from natural forms
they have someplace to go
(unlike the American figure-abstract sculpture of the 50's)

Pulling its energy inside
(like someone living in an arctic winter)

It all reminds me of Eskimo sculpture,
if only the Inuit had developed a modern European state.

Waino Aaltonen (1894-1966)

This is not just a man,
it's a Finnish man,
and that's what figure sculpture can do -
present a way of being a man in a particular time and place

Pekka Kontio (1933-1976)

..or a woman

Kaisa Saikkonen
... or a child

Here's another figure by RAILI MIKKONEN (born 1927),
the renegade school teacher mentioned in the last post.

The design gives this feeling of self sufficiency,
that Finnish women seem to have even when naked

Oskari Jauhiainen(1913-1991)

It seems that the Finns feel Germanic when they're feeling scholarly

Waino Aaltonen (1894-1966)

But here's a sweet tenderness --
that I don't recall seeing in German sculpture.
And to follow Rexroth's lead,
maybe we could call this work ecological:

The child grows from the mother's arm,
as the mother (like a tree) grows from the earth

Aimo Tukiainen ,1951 (1917-1996)

Not a posture that I remember from anywhere else,

like a crouching animal (and not especially one who's about to mate)
And like the rest of this school of sculpture -- the figure feels natural,
but it lacks anatomical details --
as it delivers an overall impact of profile in space.

Essi Renvall (1945) (1911-1979)

These are figures that are meant to stand among trees.
(and Essi was the mentor of the Renni the school marm)

Gunnar Finne (1886-1952)

Kind of erotic -- and kind of not
(since it's always dangerous to mate with forest spirits)

Harry Kivijarvi, 1959

Just like a fine piece of Italian sculpture from that period,
and it's not too surprising that this sculptor soon
adopted the next Euro-trend of abstract expression.

Which reminds us --
that most of the sculptors shown above were born in the early 20th C.
--and after 1960, the Finnish artworld followed the rest of Europe
into a more international contemporary art.

Here's a sculptor from more recent times that interests me -- but it looks like contemporary Finland could be indistinguishable from contemporary museums around the world.

And the artists I've shown above are very difficult to find outside of Finland. (most can be found in books in Worldcat -- but only from the National Library of Helsinki) -- while as you've seen -- big, luscious pictures are scarce.

Is modern culture succeeding where centuries of Swedish and Russian domination have failed ?

(note: more pictures can be found here )


Blogger Bureau of Public Secrets said...

Thanks for posting the superb Finnish sculptures and paintings. There's another briefer Rexroth piece re Finland and the Kalevala at

April 07, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Ah, that first Rexroth link isn't working (or at least not for me.)

Chris, while I enjoy wandering BOPSecrets, I really would like to read the amplification of your wonderful!


The Inuit art resemblance noted is a very nice resonance. These all have an iconographic/mythic dreamscape weight that does put me in mind of that tradition.

It makes me want to go to Finland and see more for myself...but am happy to share it through your eyes!

April 07, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...


I'm proud of all the Mountshang guests -- but especially of you two,
the sparkling Witzel, and Ken Knabb, the keeper of the "Bureau of Public Secrets" -- which was the first link I put on this blog.

I found the Rexroth site back when I was reading that 18th C. manual of Chinese painting, "The Mustard Seed Garden" -- and then Googled it.

Up popped this Rexroth essay -- with it's illuminating characterizing of the nihilism of the contemporary (1950's) American art world. (and becoming more academicized, it's only gotten worse)

(and hopefully, Lori, the Finnish link has now been fixed!)

April 08, 2007  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Hello, Chris Miller--

I am enjoying your forays to Finland. Last year I read a Finnish books, "Tainaron," and I'll have to try a few more of those. I know so little about that to-me-mysterious and intriguing section of the world.

Here I love the mother and child (and how you describe them), the baby, the rocked-back sprite (she doesn't look erotic to me but full of energy and vim.)

April 08, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

The link's now working, and I'm positively fizzing with delight! Thanks so much!

Tried to find Murasaki's Genji this afternoon, but The Big Chain Bookstore was out (perhaps you and Gawain have caused a lurker's run on the title?)

Since there is no Genji in my immediate-gratification-future, I have consoled myself with a collection of Nabokov's short stories and a brief visit to a low-water crossing I've been meaning to see for years.


April 08, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

I too like the mother and child study, I wonder what it is like from other angles though?

I found it difficult to decide whether or not you liked this stuff; the cows are fun I suppose. You have in the past chosen some great art to discuss; for me this is not one of them! Sounds like sour grapes but I promise it isn't.

You have championed some good work in the middle ground for which I applaud you.

April 13, 2007  

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