An exhibition of the Art Deco Movement: a selection of French and Finnish art produced between the years 1905 -1935 is on display at the Amos Anderson Art Musuem, the largest private art museum in Helsinki (8.3.-21.7.2013) Museum Link: These wonderful pieces of Art Deco sculpture, paintings, sculpture and furniture are currently on loan from various museums in France such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Musee des Beaux Arts, and from Finland such as Kiasma, Ateneum and the Turku City Art Collection.

This curated exhibition by art historian Laura Gutman contends that  Finnish art and artists in the 1920s & 30s closely followed the Art Deco Movement emerging out of France and were in fact inspired and led to create works of art in the same genre. Works by Maurice Denis are sited along with Finnish artists such as Eero Järnefelt and Juho Rissanen, art by Alfred Courmes with Nikolai Kaario. Through this the exhibition tries to link the Finnish Art Deco activities with the French. Although, an interesting hypothesis, the layout and spatial planning of the exhibition in my opinion does not support and enrich the idea and vision of the curator.

The hand-out talks about the interaction of the French and Finnish arts such as sculpture, painting, architecture, design, music, theatre and dance in the times of Art Deco, yet, this aspect is not clearly discernible in the arrangement of the artworks inside the museum spaces. The works are strictly arranged for example by categories of furniture, ceramics and theatre….and located in different spaces. It would have been wonderful to see multi-modality in the exhibition, such that the works in various media could be juxtaposed among each other, creating new meanings, novel inter-activities and interesting historical narratives. The intermixing of French artistic work with Finnish Art work provides a bit in that direction, although the comparative intention is not very clear. This arrangement by categories also leads to stratification of the artwork themselves, making them so holy that they become frozen in time and become hard to re-contextualize. Classifications also do not hold good any more in today’s era of multi-disciplinarity and cross-fertilization of ideas. The exhibition leaves a lot to the imagination as such.

A potential aspect of this exhibition also could have been in re-creating vibrant scenes and actual stage-sets from the Art Deco Era. In fact more so if Finnish art and French furniture, and vice-versa were combined to recreate a 1920s world i.e. the furniture could have been juxtaposed with the other whimsical elements of the exhibition. Another lost opportunity is in the display of works from theatre, dance, etc. Although the art displayed is magnificent, one does not feel the passion and dynamism of 1920s and 30s, vibrant narratives from the past in these strictly categorised spaces. On the other hand, the stately rooms of Amos Anderson are more interesting compared to the exhibition, since here one can feel the ambience and the spirit of the Art Deco Movement.

The context of the Amos Anderson Museum Building itself (a typical 1910 & 20s apartment building) also has the potential of creating a unique vertical circulation through the age of Art Deco. Take for example the American Folk Art Museum in New York that uses a narrow spatial footprint and vertical circulation to actually create links between the various spaces and exhibitions. Every floor becomes a new revelation, a new exploration although inherently tied to each other in context. Such an act of planning has apparently not been pursued in the planning of the exhibitions at the Amos Anderson. It seems here that almost every floor is disconnected from each other, and one loses the connection between the exhibits on the various floors.

An Art Deco exhibition without the use of New Media technologies is also somewhat disappointing. There was a general lack of  media, media interactivity, digital tools, screens for further exploration etc..a pedagogical must….that something that really appeals to the younger digital generation. In fact, I was told not to take photographs with my iPhone, and to even abstain from using Twitter. A technology afraid exhibition and museum policy can only go so far in attracting new visitors and younger patrons.

The only “take-away” for me from the exhibition was learning about the work of Finnish Art Deco artists and their works in comparison with the great French artists of the Art Deco Movement. The existing living quarters of the Amos Anderson family is definitely worth a look, since here one may find beautiful scenes out of the early 20th century Art Deco Movement. Besides that the exhibition lacked inspiration and a spirit of continuity into today.