Exquisite melancholy: a sneak-peek to Modigliani’s exhibition in Helsinki

(текст на русском читайте здесь)

Oct, 28th-Feb, 5th Amedeo Modigliani exhibition in Ateneum Art Museum

Some will celebrate the end of the year with champagne, while Ateneum Art Museum celebrates with sparkling Amedeo Modigliani. Probably, it is the most bohemian treat we could expect on the occasion.

I have to confess that waiting till the official opening was past bearing: Modigliani in Helsinki is quite an event. To think of it, sensual and elegant Modigliani is an event regradless of geographic coordinates.

So, praise to the press conferences and opportunities of sneak-peeks…

Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva


To start with, Ateneum’s exhibition is the largest retrospective exhibition of Modigliani’s works in the Northern Europe. 59 art works arrived from the museums, including Lille Métropole Museum of Modern (LaM), the Louvre, Contemporary and Outsider Art, Centre Pompidou, and Tel Aviv Museum of Art and 29 were loaned from the private collections.

According to Sophie Lévy, the chief curator of the exhibition and the director of the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts, the organizing process on this scale required a lot of discussing, convincing and even pleading. As Susanna Pettersson, the director of Ateneum Art Museum, confirmed later: the first conversation about the possibility of Modigliani in Ateneum started already in 2014.

(from left to right) Susanna Pettersson, the director of Ateneum Art Museum, Sophie Lévy, the chief curator of the exhibition and the director of the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, the chief curator at Ateneum, Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt, the curator at the Lille Métropole Museum. Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva

During the press conference Sophie Lévy told that the aim of the exhibition was to shift the attention that is usually paid to Modigliani’s life style and biography towards his work. Which, at first, seems like a challenge, because Modigliani is already romanticized to the point of no return and hardly ever taken out of the context of his affairs and addictions. Yet, when you go up the 3d floor, you stay tête-a-tête with nothing but his genius.

If you meet Modigliani for the first time:

Born in Italy, in a Jewish family
Known for sculptures, nudes and portraits
Well-read, impulsive, passionate and uncompromising
Lived in the Montparnasse district where became the quintessence of a flamboyant bohemian artist
Had only one solo exhibition during the lifetime and even that one was shut down by police right away for an outrage against public morality.
Died in the age of 35 from tubercular meningitis

Amedeo in the spotlight

Modigliani in Ateneum is predictable, in the best sense of the word. Almondy eyes, swan-like necks, elongated faces and exquisite melancholy – everything one expected and longed to see. In spite of working in the days of expressionism, futurism and, above all, cubism craze, Amedeo managed to convey the individuality of his sitters and, as a critic put it once, to “modiglianize” them at the same time.

…almondy eyes, swan-like necks and exquisite melancholy – everything one expected and longed to see

One might find his style a way too recognizable but this proves to be deceiving when you get a chance to see that many portraits and artworks within the same space. Walking from hall to hall you start noticing that “modiglianized” faces are all different: some stare with a smirk, some look down on you. They look sceptical, mystical, seductive, in love or openly bored. But none looks the same.

Amadeo Modiglinani in Ateneum Art Museum


Exhibition opening hours

Entrance fee: 13€/11€/0€ (children under 18)

I, personally, love Ateneum for being so atmospheric. It is overly classy – from the façade to the staircase’s twirls – and, yet, it has an enviable ability to shape-shift depending on the exhibition. This time we got the French posters, projections of Montparnasse streets, Parisian café and even the art pieces from the Louvre’s Department of Egyptian antiques. Modigliani often visited antique galleries and the admiration for ancient art first echoed in his sculptures and later on – in the portraits where the faces seemed to be carved from limestone.

Amedeo in the spotligh. Photo: Ksenia Kosheleva

Another thing that comes to mind in Ateneum is that even though during his lifetime Amedeo was unrecognized and poor as a Notre-Dame mouse but he was never alone. So, the display of Modigliani’s works will never be limited to Modigliani solely. Instead, it will convey the nature of Parisian life and fill up the museum halls with the artist’s bohemian friends and acquaintances. Some in frames, others in mind. Constantin Brâncusi, Diego Rivera, Jean Cocteau, Anna Akhmatova, Chaïm Soutine, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse – the list sounds like an excerpt from an art encyclopedia index.

…he could be unrecognized during his lifetime, poor as a Notre-Dame mouse but he was never alone

Unfortunately, Modigliani’s tumultuous life stopped too fast, like a French carousel. But he left thousands of memories and hundreds of art works behind. And in the last gallery hall the portraits, pencil sketches, sculptures, black and white photos and even the Ivory Coast ritual masks somehow come together and you see what he meant by stating: “I try to formulate the truth of art, beauty and life”. As Sophie Lévy put it: “Modigliani was a messenger”.

Ateneum exhibition is one very good way to deliver this message.

Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude with Loose Hair” (1916) Image: ateneum.fi

Ksenia Kosheleva / Ксения Кошелева

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