The Helsinki School – Seven Approaches @Wolkowitz

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing a total of 27 contemporary works by 7 different artists from the Helsinki School, hung in the entry, hallway, and back gallery spaces. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the show; the number of images on view and their details are as follows:

  • Joonas Alhava: 4 c-prints, Diasec mounted, all from 2006, either 74×59 or 49×40, all in editions of 5.
  • Hannu Karjalainen: 3: c-prints, Diasec mounted, all from 2009, each 59×47, in editions of 5.
  • Pertti Kekarainen: 2 c-prints, Diasec mounted, from 2004 and 2008, 77×49 and 77×71 respectively, both in editions of 5.
  • Ola Kolehmainen: 2 c-prints, Diasec mounted, from 2006 and 2009, both roughly 80×105, in editions of 6.
  • Anni Leppälä: 13 c-prints on aluminum, made between 2007 and 2010, in various sizes ranging from 8×11 to 43×32 (hung as a group salon style), all in editions of 7.
  • Niko Luoma: 1 c-print, Diasec mounted, made in 2009, 67×55, in an edition of 5.
  • Susanna Majuri: 2 c-prints, Diasec mounted, made in 2009, each 35×53, in editions of 5.

Comments/Context: In the past few years, I’ve read quite a bit about the high quality contemporary photographers coming out of the Helsinki School in Finland, but until this show (and its siblings at the Armory and AIPAD), there hasn’t been any real opportunity to see the work in person in New York, at least in any significant quantity.

While it is perhaps foolish to attempt to draw sweeping conclusions from such a small sample of photographers, my takeaway is that the Helsinki School has absorbed many of the important lessons from Düsseldorf (large prints with glossy Diasec mounting, leading to a tangible “art” object quality on the wall, rather than the trappings of “old” photography), and applied them in a style less rooted in rigorous documentation, but altogether more loosely conceptual in nature. To the extent there are people or buildings in these images, they have been placed there with precision and premeditation; there are no “decisive moments” or chance events happening here. Each project is built on a foundation of challenging ideas: careful and tightly controlled explorations of photography and its relationship to perception, space, light, storytelling, and memory.

I particularly enjoyed Niko Luoma’s image from his series Symmetrium, with its dense intersecting plaid of red and green lines, as once again (see the discussion of Thomas Ruff’s recent show here), we are seeing a photographer using mathematical systems to consider the non-traditional boundaries of composition. And while I have written about Ola Kolehmainen’s architectural images before (here), I think I saw and understood them more clearly in person; his work seems to be evolving away from crisp documentation of patterns toward something more minimal and obscure, using blurs and color to create more amorphous abstractions.

In truth, I found something of interest in all the bodies of work on display, from Joonas Ahlava’s silhouettes to Pertti Kekarainen’s spotted spaces, and from Hannu Karjarlainen’s people covered in rubbery paint to Anni Leppälä’s fragments of childhood memories and Susanna Majuri’s ambiguous narratives. We see so much of a certain kind of American contemporary photography on display in this city (particularly narrative and emotive portraiture) that I think this work from the Helsinki School feels surprisingly fresh and different, with a bit more European (or Scandinavian) distance and intellectualism. As a sampler of photography with an alternate point of view, it’s a terrific palate cleanser.

Collector’s POV: The prices for the works in this show are as follows:

  • Joonas Ahlava: $10000 for the smaller print, $19000 for the larger ones
  • Hannu Karjalainen: $12500 or $13500
  • Pertti Kekarainen: $14000 or $18000
  • Ola Kolehmainen: $25000 or $31000
  • Anni Leppälä: a range from $3000 to $6500
  • Niko Luoma: $14000
  • Susanna Majuri: $9500 each

While a few of Ola Kolehmainen’s prints have begun to trickle into the secondary markets, for the most part, the work of these artists is not yet consistently available at auction, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors in the short term.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Helsinki School (here) and TaiK (here)
  • Helsinki School books by Hatje Cantz (here)

The only artist sites I could find were (add the others in the comments as appropriate):

  • Anni Leppälä artist site (here)
  • Niko Luoma artist site (here)

The Helsinki School – Seven Approaches
Through April 3rd

Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery
505 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

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Read more about: Anni Leppälä, Hannu Karjalainen, Joonas Ahlava, Niko Luoma, Ola Kolehmainen, Pertti Kekarainen, Susanna Majuri, Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

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