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4 must-see art exhibitions in Helsinki in 2023

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Finland's capital Helsinki is the perfect destination for art lovers. It can give any of Europe's other art capitals a run for their money. But not enough people across the continent know it.

That might be about a change however, as the city has lined up a programme of art exhibitions this year that will be firmly putting it on the cultural map. Here are just four of the Helsinki art exhibitions you need to see in 2023.

Ateneum Art Museum reopening

Not an exhibition as most of us know them — this one’s staying permanently — but the new display of stunning artworks at the Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, leads this list as it’s such an important moment for Helsinki’s art scene.

The Ateneum holds a significant collection of Finnish and international art from the 19th century to the modern era, and it reopens on 14 April after a year’s closure. The reasons for the closure weren’t glamorous (it needed renovations to its ventilation system), but they’ve used the time to carry out a full rehang of the permanent collection. Called A Question of Time this extensive revamp of what’s on the walls features over 400 works by 200 artists and includes old favourites, never-before-seen pieces, and rarely exhibited items. Instead of the traditional, chronological approach, it’s split into four themes that run through different eras, and it aims to challenge the way in which the collection of the Finnish National Gallery has traditionally been viewed. Now open.

A lightning bolt crashing to earth in an stylised yellow and orange print
Mikko Jalavisto, Krash. 1971. Photo: Kansallisgalleria / Hannu Pakarinen

Colour & Light – The Legacy of Impressionism at Ateneum Art Museum

Work by the Impressionists is loved throughout the world. But few people will know the profound impact it had on Finnish art. A major exhibition at the reopened Ateneum Art Museum in autumn 2023 is aiming to change that.

Spanning the years 1860 to 1916, visitors will come face-to-face with masterpieces by the greats of Impressionism, such as Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac. These stunning artworks will illustrate the transformative impact the movement had on artists who would go on to shape Finnish Colourism such as Magnus Enckell, Alfred William Finch, Ellen Thesleff and Tyko Sallinen. In total around 150 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures are on display, revealing a lesser-known period in Finland’s art history.

A major draw for Finnish art lovers will be important loans from Paris’ Musée D’Orsay which houses the world’s biggest collection of Impressionist art. Opens 20 October

Tom of Finland: Bold Journey at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art

Also at Kiasma this summer is a major new exhibition of the work of Tom of Finland. On show will be items from the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, together with pieces from the collection of the Finnish National Gallery and other international public and private collections. There'll be the iconic drawings and there'll be archive material. Also on show will be Tom’s personal clothing and memorabilia, letters, publications, magazines, films, and a new VR experience.

This exhibition will use Tom of Finland’s biography as a guide, and will examine six decades of his practice. It will embrace moments from his early life in Finland, such as his rural upbringing and military service, as well as later developments such as his move to the city and his travels in Europe and the USA. Unsurprisingly, visitors will see lots of uniforms and gear, with regular appearances from his main characters such as the logger, biker, white collar worker, serviceman and police officer. Until 29 October.

Black and white drawing showing man in leather riding a motorbike with naked man riding behind
Untitled, 1963. Tom of Finland Foundation, Los Angeles © Tom of Finland Foundation

Ryoji Ikeda at Amos Rex

Japanese composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda works with sound, rhythm, light, scientific imagery, and data visualization. He also takes data that surrounds us and compresses it into large-scale audiovisual works. All these strands are on show in this exciting exhibition which is the artist's very first in Finland. This show uses the unique architecture of the Amos Rex building as part of the installations.

There are two new works here too. On the floor of the exhibition space, the black and white video projection, mass, flashes at the feet of the viewer. Above, in the skylight of one of Amos Rex’s domes is spin, a kinetic laser sculpture that repeats infinitely what appears to be the Möbius loop. And Ikeda’s large scale projections data-verse 1 & 2 divide the museum’s main domed space in half.

The works draw on fifteen years of research gathered from scientific institutions including NASA and CERN, and they invite the viewer to contemplate their sense of scale in the face of the cascading volume of data. Until 25 February 2024.

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