Love and Pain: Munch at the Didrichsen

At the very end, thanks to help from friends, I finally made it to the heavily advertised Edvard Much exhibit “Dance of Life” at the . The museum is on an island just off of a neighborhood called Munkkiniemi in the northwest corner of the city. The building comprises a striking mid-century residence with and expanded, purpose build wing for art. It isn’t big, but worth a visit even without a headline exhibit; the original house makes full use of the seaside setting. As it was, the Munch exhibit had lines waiting out the door even on a sleet-filled weekday evening. There wasn’t much time for contemplation as the lines passed quietly by each work.

2015 Munch Gaze

Not a fan of Munch’s oft reproduced Scream , I have never been particularly interested in his work. So, this gathering of pieces from a number of different collections not normally shown together presented a great opportunity to look at and learn a bit about this well-known artist’s oeuvre. I was predictably drawn to the woodcuts and lithographs in the basement.

His self-portrait, with the arm of skeleton, below, reminded me of a piece by a contemporary graphic, Sari Bremer. Some of her work, including “Woman and Skeleton”, above, can be found from the wonderful Helsinki Artotheque (a sort of artist run lending library of original art, that I love and have also written more about here). May this wonderful idea and implementation spread to other cities and lands! A timeless theme.

One of the most striking things in the exhibit was a portrait done in oils– I have been really into portraits and self-portraits during the last year! And in that painting, the most detailed feature was this marvelous shoe.

There was also a hilarious lithograph “Madonna” which reminded me of some sort of 1960s poster art, a woman, surrounded by sperm with a thrilled looking fetus in the bottom left corner. Still disturbing over 100 years later, I also note that it is no more disturbing, really, that the solemn and oddly formed medieval Madonnas I saw en masse in Italy last November.

Some critical thoughts: I could not help comparing Munch’s more colorful oils with those of Nils Dardel. His “Dance of Life” painting from 1921, for example seemed to draw from the same pallet but I didn’t find his combination of brightness with the macabre as interesting as Dardel’s. The two painters where close contemporaries in age at least, but the exhibition made no mention of any connection between them.

2015 Munch Love and Pain

I also want to rant a little about the painting that Munch titled “Love and Pain”, above, but which the Diedrichsen, and much of the internet, labeled as “The Vampire”. To me, it looks like a couple embracing in sorrow, or a woman comforting a man in pain. It was an art critic that gave it its more sensational name. In this era of pop-culture vampire ubiquity, the association feels both limiting and boring. I was dissapointed that the curators chose to use that acquired name, rather than Munch’s original. To me, it limits the work and risks diminishing the interest of the painting; it is just one of many interpretations of that melancholy and beautiful work.

That being said, I am eager to get back to the museum for another visit. The Didrichsen may be out of the way, but the setting by the water is striking and the grounds are full of sculptures worth discovering. I also found myself crushed by the crowds against a case containing this:

2015 Didrichsen Buddha

The museum has at least a little collection of Asian art as well. I am looking forward to going back again when the weather is better and the crowds have thinned. Meanwhile, everyone here is complaining constantly about the weather. Even so, there are moments of otherworldly beauty.

2015 Helsinki Harbour Wheel Silja Line

A trip to the Gallen-Kallela museum

Finland had a strong Jugenstil movement at the beginning of the last century, resulting in many fairy-tale buildings throughout Southern Finland, like the Gallen-Kallela Museum.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Museum

Jugend or Art Nouveau is characterized by organic forms that recall a semi-imaginary fairytale past in Finland. Much art from the era references the Kalevala– the national epic that was compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century. In places like this it is easy to imagine Finland and the Kalevala serving as inspiration for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

The museum was a home that Gallen-Kallela built with his wife after extensive traveling outside of Finland. While he was a fantastic painter, the museum does not have a large collection of his paintings, but it has amazing examples of other things he made.

Including furniture he carved by hand:

Gallen-Kallela carved furniture

He also designed the flag flying at the museum, with the intention that it would be Finland’s national flag. Apparently he was not enthused about the blue and white cross.

The walk out from , at the Munkkiniemi end of the N. 4 tram line was beautiful, even in stormy weather. It takes less than half an hour, and follows the water most of the way. You can reward yourself for the trek by visiting a sweet little cafe there, older that the Art Nouveau castle, and pictured above.

It was haunting; worth a visit and the walk is highly recommended!