Finnish modernists found a new beauty in concrete art – for nothing was more concrete and beautiful than a line, circle or square.
The exhibition CONCRETE! spotlights Finnish modernism and concrete art in the period 1930-1970, where the interplay between lines, geometric forms and colours are in focus. The concrete artists sought an alternative to a narrative and figurative idiom, seeking a new form of beauty based on simple geometric shapes and harmony. The Finnish concrete expression is now being presented in Norway for the first time.
Concrete art is a direction characterized by simple, abstract and geometric shapes. This orientation was launched by an artist group led by Theo van Doesburg in the 1930 Manifest sur l’art concret. The declaration describes how concrete art is a universal form made up of concrete pictorial elements such as the line, color and surface. This specific art avoids any connection to natural forms and does not refer to an opinion outside of itself. It is what it is.
The Tangen collection is the largest collection of Finnish art beyond Finland’s borders. In this exhibition the Southern Norway Art Museum introduces Finland’s four initial pioneers in concrete art: Birger Carlstedt, Sam Vanni, Ernst Mether-Borgström, and Lars-Gunnar Nordström.
CONCRETE! Is an exhibition based on and inspired by the exhibition The New Beauty. Modernist Highlights from the Tangen Collection, which was exhibited by Hamenlinna Museum in Finland in 2021. The curator team is comprised of Hanne Cecilie Gulstad and Frida Forsgren from the Southern Norway Art Museum and Timo Valjakkacurator of the Finnish exhibition The New Beauty. Modernist Highlights from the Nicolai Tangen Collection.
The exhibition’s highlighted artists developed a concrete visual language using pure geometric shapes and colors, unrelated to natural forms. In Finland, as in the rest of the Western world after the Second World War, there was a pronounced need to create a new idiom, and in the concrete art the Finnish modernists found what the critics described as a new beauty. For nothing was more concrete and beautiful than a line, circle and square.
Finnish divisions – International impulses versus a Finnish purity
After the independence (1917) Finnish society in the inter-war years was primarily concerned with liberation and construction. What then dominated the visual arts were evocative depictions of the Finnish landscape, folk life and interiors. This was because the freshly independent nation sought to create a new identity for itself, a national culture that unified the populace. The few artists who experimented with abstract expression were ridiculed and given little leeway for pursuing this genre.
It was not until after the Second World War that a group of younger artists experimented and developed abstract art on impulses from French modernism. This idiom achieved a clearer foundation in Finnish art circles first in the 1950s. In the exhibition you will see how a figurative and narrative visual idiom from the early 1930s evolved into abstract and concrete art. We also show how concrete art morphed into minimalism and op-art.
Juhana Blomstedt / Birger Carlstedt / Carolus Enckell / Outi Ikkala / Vladimir Kopteff / Matti Kujasalo / Wäinö Kunnas / Edvin Lydén / Ernst Mether-Borgström / Olli Miettinen / Lars-Gunnar Nordström / Paul Osipow / Tuulikki Pietilä / Pentti Tulla / Sam Vanni