“ARS 83”

Ateneum Art Museum

Despite its modesty, Jannis Kounellis’ diagonal wooden palisade covering one half of a wide arched window in this neoclassical building touched on some of the central issues raised by Ars 83, the largest exhibition of contemporary art ever shown in Scandinavia. The palisade worked as a membrane, bringing the exhibition room into visibility relative to it while also both distinguishing between and linking the show’s artistic context with its wider one. Out there lay Helsinki, with its peculiar mixture of Western and Russian features; the rustic gray stone walls of the Finnish National Theater, framed in the open half of the window, both evoked the period of Finnish artistic creativity at the turn of the century (when Aksel Gallen-Kallela and Jean Sibelius, for example, were active) and reminded one of Kounellis’ own walls in stone.

I had expected Helsinki’s specific quality as a city bordering

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