We missed you, Kiasma: Helsinki’s largest Museum of contemporary art is back

It has been pretty much a contemporary art draught in Helsinki, as the two biggest museums decided to close for renovation at the same time. But hey, great news for all museum-goers and art-lovers: long-awaited Kiasma’s reopening is scheduled for March, 13th.

The journalists were the first ones to see the new exhibitions. Famous winding staircases by Steven Holl look much better with the visitors) Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva
Patience was never on the list of my virtues, so three days before the official opening I attended the press conference. Artsy rendez-vous started with cocktails and a brief explanation given by the museum’s officials about what has been going on behind the scaffolds. As a visitor, one would not notice much of a difference, even from the second glance – it is still the same gorgeously curved and light-catching building by Steven Holl. But, as we got to know, some serious work has been done to the glass ceiling, walls and acoustics. Also, the museum-shop got a bit more style and now looks like an extension of an exposition, rather than just another place to spend money.

Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva
Я вообще не могу уйти из этого магазина с пустыми руками. Лучше не заходить, честное слово!
Now the new museum shop is laconic and organized by colours. And still full of not-so-necessary but ridiculously tempting stuff. Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva

I guess the renovation of Kiasma was not the most budget-friendly project for the City of Helsinki, but definitely it was something worth investing in. Come to think of it – the building itself is, in fact, the main museum showpiece.

Kiasma’s grand reopening is marked with a few new exhibitions. We had a chance to get a sneak preview, and, quoting Alice, from floor to floor, things got “curiouser and curiouser”. No doubt that the most remarkable and recommendable is the exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s (1943-1989) photography. Mapplethorpe was the unofficial (or shall I even say official?) photographer of the 70-80s New York underground. His camera snapped black and white portraits of Iggy Pop, Amanda Lear, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

Знакомые все лица
Don’t you recognize them all?? Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva
Photo by Kiasma
Photo by Kiasma

The monochromatic, mesmerizing world of the charismatic and scandalous Mapplethorpe occupies the whole 3d floor of Kiasma. The dim museum halls are successfully turned into some kind of New York portrait gallery, where you completely loose sense of reality, forgetting about the jarring of Helsinki trams, the equestrian Mannerheim in front of the museum, and everything that anyhow relates to Finland. The retrospective exhibition consists of over 250 works, all of them somehow brought to a common denominator: love, death and pleasure. The last aspect occupies the separate room, marked with an unambiguous 18 + sign. Have you ever seen or heard of (now underline as appropriate) famous/powerful/shocking  Mapplethorpe’s “Man in a polyester suit”? Well, that one is also on display.

And yet, it would be just too simple to define his photography as “notorious” and “shocking”. Mapplethorpe himself preferred the “unexpected”. And to me, his works, even the most controversial ones, somehow strike with fragility. As for the black and white portraits…well, those are simply iconic, so deep and powerful.

Patti Smith, close and true friend of Mapplethorpe. Her National Book Award-winning memoir book “Just kids” is available at Kiasma shop (in Finnish) Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva
The opening word was given by the President of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Mr. Michael Stout. Mr. Stout, the old friend of Mapplethorpe, thanked the whole museum team, and especially curators, for excellent cooperation and pointed out that Kiasma galleries and Mapplethorpe photography made just a perfect match. He said that the collection has been travelling across the world for the last 30 years but it is more an exception to the rule that everything worked out so fine.


Incredibly charismatic Mr. Stout is giving a speech. He met Mapplethorpe in late 70-s and, eventually, became not only his friend but also a lawyer. How he is the President of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation that primarily supports photography and medical research in the area of AIDS.
Incredibly charismatic Mr. Stout is giving a speech. He met Mapplethorpe in late 70-s and, eventually, became not only his friend but also a lawyer. How he is the President of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation that primarily supports photography and medical research in the area of AIDS. Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva

Later on, while we were wandering about the exhibition, I could not help but ask Mr. Stout about the future plans of the exposition. And, he told that that there could be a possibility to bring Mapplethorpe to The Hermitage for the second time (the first time was over 10 years ago and just a tiny part of the collection). The exhibition in the renovated General Staff Building (Арка Главного Штаба), wouldn’t it be great?

But let’s see… So far, great job, Kiasma! And nice to have you back))

NB. If you got interested in the world of Mapplethorpe’s photography – take your time to visit Artsy, the new web project that literally redefines the way the world discovers Art. The job that Artsy team has done is truly impressive, just as their Mapplethorpe’s online gallery (for me, this website was The Discovery of the Month).

Conclusion: must see.

Mannerheiminaukio 2

Tickets: 12/8€

First Friday of each month free entrance from 16-20

Opening hours: Tue 10-17, Wed-Fri 10-20:30 Sat 10-18, Sun 10-17

Text: Ksenia Kosheleva

#helsinki #kiasma #finland

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