On 30 August 2018, Amos Rex will open with Massless, an installation by the Tokyo-based digital art collective teamLab following the five-year, €50 million refurbishment of the landmark 1930’s Lasipalatsi building in Central Helsinki.
Designed by architecture firm JKMM the new 2,200 sq m space will put the Finnish capital of Helsinki on the global cultural map. The Amos Anderson Art Foundation in Helsinki sponsored the new gallery and art-handling spaces which will be located beneath the iconic Lasipalatsi square. Amos Rex will also feature a cinema, the 1930’s Bio Rex cinema, incorporated into the new cultural centre.
Massless is composed of five digital artworks: four fully immersive spaces created using digital projections, including a new work making its debut at the museum and an LCD screen-based display. teamLab’s collaborative practice seeks to navigate the confluence of art, technology, design, and the natural world. Rooted in the traditions of historical Japanese art, teamLab operates from a distinct sense of spatial recognition that they call Ultrasubjective Space.
To talk about this exciting project and the opening of the museum, Art is Alive speaks to Kai Kartio, Amos Rex’s director. He worked at the Old Masters Department of the Finnish National Gallery from 1991 to 1999 and was director of the Turku Art Museum in 1999-2001. Since 2001 he has been director of Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki. Kartio is now leading the curatorial, managerial direction of Amos Rex.
What’s your vision for Amos Rex?
The visual world is currently going through a major upheaval. It is impossible to predict what the art of the future will involve or require. Amos Rex has, nevertheless, been built for the future. We wanted an exhibition space that would be as open, flexible and adaptable as possible, so that things can be done there that we cannot yet even imagine. As a result, the space at Amos Rex is exceptionally well suited to installations that try out new means of expression and techniques – like the immersive projections in our inaugural exhibition by the teamLab collective from Tokyo.
When you descend into Amos Rex’s new premises, the first thing to open up before you is the art workshop, which is also one of the most beautiful spaces. Youth and audience work are at the heart of Amos Rex’s operations.
The new Amos Rex exists in dialogue with a masterpiece of 1930s functionalist architecture, the Lasipalatsi and Bio Rex cinema. That dialogue will be carried forward by exhibitions of 20th century modernist art and the permanent display of Sigurd Frosterus’ collection of Post-Impressionist art.
The exhibitions of ancient cultures to be mounted at Amos Rex from time to time will also engage in a conversation between old and new.
Amos Rex is a meeting place. It is where people and generations, art forms and eras, overground and underground, past and future, will come face to face.
As Director of the museum, what’s your biggest challenge: curating exhibitions, `acquiring relevant works or making sure people come and return to the museum?
Curating exhibitions is always an exciting challenge, but making sure people come and return to Amos Rex is of course a priority for me. As they mostly come for the exhibitions, the two are obviously related. Acquiring relevant works is very important but the task is limited by the minuscule size of our acquisition budget, which is mainly used acquiring works by emerging Finnish artists.
What’s your main priority and what’s the best part of your role?
I’m trying to make a difference. Seeing visitors who are engaged, overwhelmed, or just happy is the best reward.
What are your views about juxtaposing modern and contemporary art within the collection? Do you think that’s a strong way to present art?
I think it is a very strong way, the best way in my opinion. And not juxtaposing only modern and contemporary, but very old and contemporary. This may partly be due to my background in Old Masters. My first love was Baroque art. I’ve always felt this as a strength in dealing with contemporary art. Everything, in arts as in life, is connected to the past.
Please select a few highlights in the museum collection and tell us why they are significant works?
Let me make a completely personal selection:
… by Marianna Uutinen (b.1961). I had this painting on my office wall for many years and never grew tired of looking at it. It is a shame that it doesn’t fit into my present office.
Ice Cream Eyes (when nobody’s watching) (2001) by Elina Merenmies (b. 1967) This was one of my first acquisitions. It is just such a very poignant painting.
… by Viggo Wallensköld (b.1969). He is one of my favourites in contemporary Finnish art, an enigmatic, paradoxical painter.
Marine (1887) by Théo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926). This is one of the lesser-known works in architect Sigurd Frosterus’ collection of Les Vingt. I like the way he turned the sea and the sky into one multi-coloured surface.
Are there any treasures in storage that the public doesn’t have access to? Are there any new acquisitions by the museum?
Amos Rex has one of the major existing collections of post-war Finnish art. Unfortunately, as in most museums, it is mainly in storage, when it does not feature in our exhibitions. We are also generous in loans to other institutions. We make a few acquisitions annually, mainly young Finnish art.
Could you tell us about the architecture of the museum and how it was conceived?
We wanted open, flexible spaces. This required self-supporting ceilings, which led to domes, the traditional way to create beautiful spaces. Above ground, the domes rise as small hills, with skylights popping up as buds. It was important for us that you can have daylight and views outside from the spaces, but you can also actually have a look into the museum from the unique urban landscape created by the domes. The interplay of the new spaces and the 1936 Lasipalatsi, which is one the masterpieces of Finnish modern architecture, was a major challenge. Asmo Jaaksi and JKMM Architects have done a great job.
What are some future exhibitions / projects we should be aware of?
Let’s start with the hugely exciting teamLab exhibition. In the coming years we will alternate with experimental contemporary art, important aspects of 20th century modernism, and from time to time ancient civilisations.
Who do you follow / admire in modern and contemporary art?
I enjoy many different sorts of art and I am not good at explaining why I like something. I follow my intuition. What I have little patience with are the socially and intellectually pretentious aspects of contemporary art.
What are some recent exhibitions you have seen and liked?
Céleste Boursier-Mouginot at Copenhagen Contemporary, Yukinori Yanagi at the Sydney Biennale, Otto Marseus van Schrieck at Staatliches Museum Schwerin.