Waves of change in the Helsinki art museum scene

The arts and museum scene in Helsinki is buzzing. Proposals, plans and ideas are presented, and the discussion in media – and among arts professionals, politicians and the general public – has been lively.

In September, the Amos Anderson Art Museum launched plans for a new museum in the Helsinki city centre.  The biggest private art museum in Finland, with an extensive collection of mainly modern Finnish art based on the private collection of Amos Anderson (1878–1961) already houses a 1910’s building in central Helsinki but needs more space for its temporary exhibitions. Lasipalatsi, the location of the new museum, is a renovated 1930’s architectural masterpiece at the heart of Helsinki. The museum would occupy part of the building, with plans for an underground extension and a citizens’ outdoor living room in the square linking Lasipalatsi to one of Finland’s busiest shopping centres.

At the same time, two other major art museums in Helsinki, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Helsinki Art Museum are closing their doors due to renovations starting in 2014. Kiasma will do so with a big bang: their last two shows are a retrospective of the Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar and a collaboration with the Finnish design company Marimekko. During the renovation Kiasma will appear from time to time in the city landscape through pop-up events – where and how remains to be seen.

The new director of the Helsinki Art Museum, Maija Tanninen-Mattila, will guide her institution through building works that will nearly double the museum’s exhibition space. The visitor potential is huge as their next-door neighbour in the Tennispalatsi building, another renovated functionalist landmark, is a multiplex cinema that attracts nearly 1.5 million visitors per year. Tanninen-Mattila’s vision is to create a hub for both local art lovers and tourists and give the museum a strong contemporary profile.

And then there is the Guggenheim Foundation, now hoping to clench a deal with the City of Helsinki to secure a site for a new museum in Eteläranta on the southern waterfront next to a busy ferry terminal, the main market square and other tourist attractions. Their first proposal, rejected by the City Council in 2012, was followed this autumn by a revised strategy that promises to provide a platform for Finnish art and culture in a broader international context. Even the first phase of the collaboration, an architectural competition, is expected to attract wide international interest. However, the current economical climate hardly favours requests for large amounts of public and private funding.

‘Too many museums competing over the same old visitors’, comments a weary taxpayer. ‘But hey, they all operate within a radius of half a mile – a field day for a citizen or tourist’, says another. – Whatever the viewpoint, it’s never been this exciting to see how the museums in Helsinki manage to capture the energy around their business and turn their visions into action.



While Helsinki museums are busy revising their future plans, Checkpoint Helsinki, an initiative set up by some 100 artists took no time to approach the Mayor of Helsinki and secure funding for international commissions and artworks for Helsinki. Initially a counter reaction to the Guggenheim proposal, Checkpoint Helsinki will be collaborating in 2014 with Helsinki Festival, the largest arts festival in Helsinki.



 Read more:

Amos Anderson Art Museum

KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art

Helsinki Art Museum

Checkpoint Helsinki

Guggenheim Helsinki


Photo: Amos Anderson Art Museum / Arkkitehtitoimisto JKMM