New Wave Finland: Contemporary Photography from the Helsinki School @Scandinavia House

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of nine artists/photographers, curated by Timothy Persons and Pari Stave. The works are displayed in a series of three connected galleries, with an entry space and an adjacent video viewing room, all located on the third floor of the building. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists/photographers have been included in the exhibit, with image details for each in parentheses:

  • Pasi Autio (1 HD video, displayed on a small screen, 2012)
  • Joakim Eskildsen (12 pigment prints, both large and small sizes, framed in white and unmatted, 2011)
  • Tiina Itkonen (3 pigment prints, unframed, 2002-2012)
  • Hannu Karjalainen (1 HD video, displayed directly on the wall, 2009)
  • Kalle Kataila (5 large pigment prints, framed in white and unmatted, 2004-2009)
  • Anni Leppälä (10 pigment prints of various sizes, framed in white and unmatted, 2004-2012)
  • Niko Luoma (2 large c-prints, unframed, 2010)
  • Riita Päiväläinen (3 large c-prints, unframed, 2005)
  • Mikko Sinervo (1 set of 24 small c-prints and 1 large c-print, unframed, 2008-2009)

Comments/Context: While there are many universities and art schools around the world with strong programs in photography, the Helsinki School is certainly one that would be on many people’s short list of the most innovative. Unfortunately for those of us in New York, we only get to see the work of the school’s graduates intermittently, as most of the artists/photographers lack American gallery representation, making survey shows like this one are all the more important as they give us a quick sampler of what has been going on since we last checked in.

At least to my eye, this exhibit does a nice job of mixing work from familiar and unfamiliar names, juxtaposing photographs from some of the more established graduates with those of upcoming and emerging artists. In the past, two of the hallmarks of Helsinki School photography were dynamic conceptual underpinnings and an affinity for glossy, object quality presentation, and these two facets of the overall approach are still very much evident in the most recent output of its students. Mikko Sinervo probes the process of visual perception via fuzzy candy colored abstract orbs that mimic the afterimage effects of looking at light. Riita Päiväläinen places discarded clothing into natural scenes, creating ethereal installations that play with texture and motion; the patterns of black and white dresses snow get lost in the tangle of snow covered branches. And Niko Luoma’s massive linear abstractions throb with electric energy.

Another group of artists stay one step closer to photographic tradition, keeping figures present and opting for standard white framing. Kalle Kataila’s works echo 19th century Romantic paintings, with tiny lone figures perching in the foreground, looking out at the wonder of snowy waterfalls, frozen oceans, or vast green valleys. Anni Leppälä creates mysterious fairy tale narratives, where a red ribbon turns into smoke, a young girl peers behind a curtain, and two stockinged feet hang ominously from the rafters of a boat cabin. And Joakim Eskildsen stays closer to home, with quiet, intimate images of his young children wedged next to a fridge, walking down yellow leafed forest paths, and running underneath a rainbow in the greenery of an overgrown garden. Even the video work on view seems firmly rooted in photographic thinking, with Pasi Autio’s treatise on walking illustrated by a single figure moving with nearly imperceptible slowness while the rest of the surrounding street scene moves at normal speed.

It’s clear from this show that the Helsinki School is consistently churning out plenty of accomplished contemporary photographers. Smart exhibits like this one can certainly help increase their exposure in America, but I for one would like to see their collective work shown here more often, so we can consider their ideas and influence with less delay. New York gallery owners, it’s time to get going and book that long overdue trip to Helsinki.

Collector’s POV: Since this effectively a museum exhibit, there are no posted prices for the works on view. All of the artists are represented by the Gallery TAIK (here) in Finland, which is part of the Helsinki School. Niko Luoma is also represented in New York by Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery (here).

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Read more about: Anni Leppälä, Hannu Karjalainen, Joakim Eskildsen, Kalle Kataila, Mikko Sinervo, Niko Luoma, Pasi Autio, Riitta Päiväläinen, Tiina Itkonen, Scandinavia House

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