Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form

Alvar Aalto in his studio, 1945. © Alvar Aalto Foundation. Photo: Eino Mäkinen / Alvar Aalto Museum

Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is the most internationally famous Finnish architect and designer. The exhibition opens up new perspectives into Aalto’s life and work. The comprehensive exhibition illustrates how Aalto’s organic design idiom developed in interaction with contemporary visual artists.

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form exhibition is a part of the programme for the centenary of Finland’s independence.

In addition to presenting Aalto’s extensive oeuvre, works are also featured from his close friends and modernist masters, such as the American Alexander Calder and the Frenchman Fernand Léger. The exhibition also highlights the role of the Artek furniture and design company as a contributor to the Finnish art scene. The exhibition is produced by the Vitra Design Museum, in cooperation with the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Ateneum Art Museum.

Alvar Aalto was one of the most influential figures in international modernism. Aalto was a fully-fledged cosmopolitan with a global network of contacts: he and his wife, the architect Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894–1949), were internationally active, starting in the 1920s. The idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, was important to Aalto: he worked across multiple disciplines, including architecture, urban planning, design, and art.

Assembled by the chief curator of the Vitra Design Museum, Jochen Eisenbrand, the retrospective exhibition presents Aalto’s life and work from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition features a wealth of iconic objects and pieces of furniture, as well as architectural drawings and scale models. Interdisciplinarity in art, and Aalto’s multi-disciplinarity, is highlighted through archive materials, works of art, photographs and short films. The exhibition also features new photographs of Aalto’s architecture, taken by the German photographic artist Armin Linke.

The Ateneum brings another perspective to the exhibition with the inclusion of works by Aalto’s closest artist friends, including the German-French Hans Arp (1886–1966), the American Alexander Calder (1898–1976), the Frenchman Fernand Léger (1881–1955) and the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). The exhibition features a large number of works from Villa Mairea, a private residence in Noormarkku that Aalto designed for Maire Gullichsen and her husband. Most of the works at the exhibition were introduced to Finland through Artek and people in Aalto’s inner circle.

The permanent imprint of Artek’s international art exhibitions on the Finnish art world

Alvar and Aino Aalto founded Artek together with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl in 1935. The company manifesto stated that its line of business also includes art publicity and education. In the 1930s and the 1940s, Artek hosted art exhibitions at its shop and at the Kunsthalle Helsinki. In the period from 1950 to 1997, Artek’s exhibition activities were continued by the Galerie Artek in its own gallery space.

Artek’s bold and ambitious exhibitions brought modernist classics and the latest international contemporary art to Helsinki. The exhibitions left a permanent imprint on the Finnish art world and on the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection. Indeed, the exhibition at the Ateneum features a wide selection of works that the museum acquired from art exhibitions organised by Artek.

Alvar Aalto - Art and the Modern Form

Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form

Produced by the Ateneum, the publication Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form discusses Artek’s exhibition activities and highlights the life’s work of Aino Marsio-Aalto in the arenas of art, design and architecture. Edited by the chief curator, Sointu Fritze, the publication will feature articles by Jochen Eisenbrand, Susanna Pettersson, and Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. The publication is available in Finnish, Swedish and English.
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Before Helsinki, the exhibition has been shown at the Vitra Design Museum, the show’s production partner in Germany; in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain; and in Aalborg in Denmark. The exhibition’s Global Sponsor is Microsoft and the Sponsors are Artek and Iittala. The Ateneum’s main partners are Helsingin Sanomat, HOK-Elanto, KPMG and Stora Enso. The sponsor for the Ateneum’s Alvar Aalto exhibition is OP.

Alvar Aalto featured at the Orion cinema
Between 14 May and 18 June, the Orion cinema will screen a series of films entitled Alvar Aalto & Projektio. Alvar Aalto was the passionate chairman of Projektio, Finland’s first film society, which was active between 1934 and 1936. For more information on the film screenings at Orion, see (in Finnish): kavi.fi/fi/elokuvasarja/alvar-aalto-ja-filmistudio-projektio

Interactive space

The exhibition also includes an interactive space (Gallery 23), where you may touch the exhibits on display. We invite you to explore the world of forms and materials through hands-on activity.
For example, how many ways are there to create a perspective drawing?

Events

THU 24 AUG, 13:00–17:00
Conference: Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form
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SAT 9 SEPT, 12:00–15:00
Conference: Aino Marsio-Aalto as a designer
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SUN 17 SEPT at 14:00
Lecture on Alvar Aalto: Museum Director Susanna Pettersson
Ateneum Hall. Alvar Aalto, Artek and visual arts. In Finnish. Admission is included in the museum entrance fee or with a Museum Card. Free admission for Friends of Ateneum: get your admission sticker at the ticket office.

SUN 17 SEPT at 15:00 and
SUN 24 SEPT at 14:00
Film screening: What’s the Time in Vyborg? (2001–2004)
Ateneum Hall. The artist Liisa Roberts will be present to discuss the film and answer questions after both screenings.
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Tips for schools and group leaders

Download the resource package (PDF, 922 kB)

Press releases

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