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FinnFest takes over

Eric Aho, "Wilderness Studio III"


It’s sort of magical. In 2014, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery invited Janne Sirén, Finnish director of the Helsinki Art Museum and art history professor, to be its eleventh director.  This year, Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by the Finnish architectural team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, celebrates its seventh-fifth anniversary. And in October, FinnFestUSA, the annual international conference on Finnish culture and heritage, takes place in Buffalo. 

At a time when Buffalo’s cultural diversity has been enriched by newcomers from Asia and Africa, it’s also good to celebrate a part of our European heritage that doesn’t happen to be Irish, English, Italian, German, or Polish. FinnFestUSA was founded in 1983 and is intended to bring modern Finland together with historic and contemporary America. Buffalo co-chairs, Catherine Schweitzer and Cindy Abbott Letro, have brought together a citywide mix of cultural programming that makes the most of such local treasures as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG), the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC), the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Daemen College, and other institutions. We’ll look at the visual arts and folk arts programming here. See pages 45–47 for a complete report on the Kleinhans anniversary programming.


Ahtila at AKAG and Kaikkonen at the airport

Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s multichannel video installations feature beautiful, compelling imagery and symbolic human narratives. She suggests that we connect our personal domestic dramas with the larger ecosystems around us; her videos address these possibilities in provocative, moving, and surprising ways. The installations open at the AKAG on October 10 and are on view through January 3, 2016. The show is accompanied by the first book to be published on Ahtila’s work. 

On the public art side, the AKAG brings artist Kaarina Kaikkonen, who is presenting one of her large clothing installations at the  Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The massive work is made out of thousands of shirts donated by local residents. (No completion date for this was available at press time.)


Burchfield and Sibelius

Music and sound of any kind are central in the art of Charles Ephraim Burchfield, and, though Burchfield revered other classical composers, he was especially touched by the dark romanticism of Jean Sibelius. In an exhibition on view now entitled Mystic North, BPAC presents works by Burchfield that are inspired by northern landscapes and winter scenes that he also heard expressed in work by the Finnish composer. 

The exhibition also includes Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), who was Sibelius’ friend, painted his portrait, and is considered by many to be Finland’s most famous artist; and Eric Aho (born 1966), an American of Finnish descent and Burchfield admirer, who traveled to his ancestral country to paint expressive landscapes. The show runs through January.


A Kalevala Duo, Playing Bones

We’ve learned to expect unusual, performance-based work from curator Claire Schneider’s CS1 Curatorial Projects. On October 11, CS1 brings together Finnish artist Pia Lindman with acclaimed local ensemble Wooden Cities. Lindman is a professor of environmental art at Finland’s Aalto University, an internationally recognized performance artist, and a certified practitioner of Kalevala bone-setting, which is a traditional form of medicine based on Finnish oral tradition and is similar to massage or chiropractic therapies. Lindman’s presentation at Kleinhans includes music created by the artist and played by Wooden Cities as Lindman performs Kalevala onstage. Lindman is to wear a dress inspired by the music and healing procedure; it is being designed by students at Aalto University. Lindman comments, “In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Finnish art inspired by Kalevala was presented to the international community in the hopes of driving home the political argument for an independent Finland, freed from Russian panslavism.” She also notes that Sibelius wrote symphonies inspired by Kalevala.  

Learn more about FinnFestUSA, which includes other performances, lectures, seminars, and other programming, at events.finnfestusa.org.    




Elizabeth Licata is editor of Spree.

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