Activities of the Foundation
from Past to Present

The Finnish Art Society played an important role in establishing the Fine Arts Academy of Finland. Fredrik Cygnaeus, who was on the board of the Art Society from 1849 to 1878, proposed that Finland should follow the Swedish model in having a prestigious Arts Academy. Finally, in 1939, when the administration of the Art Society was reformed and, after negotiations spanning three years, the annual meeting of the Art Society made a decision to establish an independent foundation by the name of Fine Arts Academy of Finland, which was to be supported by the Finnish Art Society, the Finnish State, the City of Helsinki, and the most important Finnish Artists’ Associations. The rules of the Foundation were confirmed on 6 October 1939 and the founding meeting was held on 22 November 1940.

The Ateneum Art Museum, the Sinebrychoff Art Collection, and the highest level Finnish art school that later went on to become the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of Arts Helsinki were now all under the new foundation. The first chairman of the representatives of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland was director general Oskari Mantere and the chairman of the board was professor Onni Okkonen. Honorary members of the Academy have included Amos Anderson, Jean Sibelius, Edvard Munch, and HRH Prince Eugen, among others. 

Due to World War II, the early work of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland consisted mainly of “maintaining and salvaging”, but after the war, the activities developed. The long-term secretary of the Academy, Heikki A. Reenpää, was a bridge between different factions of the art field and was actively influential behind the scenes.

Ristiltäotto, 1815-1949 – Salomon Andersson
(Sinebrychoffin taidemuseo)

For decades, various issues with both premises and financing hampered the Foundation’s activities. In addition to the funds it originally held independently, the assets held by the Fine Arts Academy of Finland included the school founded by the Finnish Art Society, as well as its equipment, library, and collection, the collections of the Art Society, the museum library and its archive, and various funds given by the Art Society. In addition, the state’s art collections, such as the Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection and the Rafael Ahlström Art Collection owned by the City of Helsinki, were given to the care of the Foundation. 

The issues with premises were solved as late as the 1970s. Indeed, the old premises in Ateneum could no longer reasonably house both the National Gallery and the national schools for arts and applied arts. In 1950, architect W.G. Palmqvist planned an expansion for the Ateneum building commissioned by the Foundation. In 1961, Alvar Aalto finished a plan for the Helsinki city centre that would have included an art museum, a museum of applied arts, and an architecture museum located in Töölönlahti bay. However, the decision on extensive repairs at the Ateneum building was only made a decade later, whereupon it was also decided that the premises on Yrjönkatu street would be renovated for the art school. While the Sinebrychoff Art Collection had been in rented premises, when the Sinebrychoff company wanted to sell these buildings the Ministry of Education bought them in cooperation with the City of Helsinki in 1978. The premises were renovated and it was decided that the collections of old foreign art owned by the State and the Art Academy would be displayed there alongside the Sinebrychoff Collection. At the same time, the State of Finland gave the Academy the care of art that was placed in different offices by the State Art Commission. 

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland had already began actively organising exhibitions in the early 1940s, when extensive group exhibitions of Finnish and international art were held. The international exhibitions made it possible for the Academy, together with some artists’ associations, to organise a representative exhibition of Finnish art, which ultimately went on tour in Europe from 1949 to 1950. The commissioner of the first touring exhibition was the principal of the art school, Aarre Heinonen, who was very active in developing the Academy’s international relations. 

In response to the wishes of the general public and experts alike, the Academy started to organise exhibitions of contemporary Finnish art every three years from 1950 onwards. These triennial exhibitions became a constant in the Finnish art scene for decades to follow. There were also regular touring exhibitions within Finland itself. The first such exhibition, called “Edelfeltistä Salliseen” (from Edelfelt to Sallinen), toured from 1950 to 1951 and shed light on the history of Finnish painting. The exhibition visited twenty-five towns and cities and enjoyed great success. 

In the post war years, the public showed a special interest in learning about both art history and contemporary art. The presence of foreign art was also strong in Ateneum. In addition, Finnish artists started to get a feel of the renewal happening in the field of art, which was reflected especially in the exhibitions in the Venice Biennale, for which Alvar Aalto designed the wooden Finnish Pavilion. The Academy was responsible for curating the Biennale exhibition from 1956 when the Pavilion was completed. In practice, the person in charge at the time was Doctor of Philosophy Sakari Saarikivi who, a couple of years later, became the director of the Educational Department of the Academy (later the Department of Exhibitions and Communications).

Nuorallatanssija, 1944 – Ole Kandelin
(Ateneumin taidemuseo)

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland continued the aforementioned activities for the first fifty years of its operation until 1990, when a contract was made to hand over the departments of the Academy to continue their work under the State. The Academy kept its securities along with a sum corresponding to its own, original funds and the funds at the time of the handover.

The Ministry of Education was planning new activities to benefit the visual arts in Finland. The Ministry was planning to start a new art export organisation tasked with creating international visibility and involvement for Finnish contemporary art. The Ministry asked art journalist Markku Valkonen to implement the new organisation established in 1992 and called FRAME – Finnish Fund for Art Exchange. Valkonen was the director of the Exhibition Exchange Centre FRAME for the first five years. 

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland managed the Exhibition Exchange Centre FRAME that gave grants for projects abroad, exhibition publications and participation in arts fairs. International exhibition projects were organised by FRAME on its own and in collaboration with Finnish and foreign organisations. In addition, the Academy continued the exhibitions in the Aalto Pavilion in the Venice Biennale that had been started in the1950s. In the context of Nordic collaboration, the activities grew to also include an exhibition in the Nordic Pavilion every four years. Other large exhibitions were also organised in the context of Nordic collaboration, with the first being “Strangers in the Arctic”, held in Copenhagen. 

The international exhibitions were, however, hampered by a lack of money. During the economic recession of the early 1990s, the mode of operation of the Academy caused significant challenges. The funding granted by the Ministry of Education was halved and funds had to be collected elsewhere. In this way, the funding for activities, implementation of projects, and international networking could all be secured. 

The close collaboration with the representatives of the Ministry of Education (now the Ministry of Education and Culture) that had continued for decades ceased in 2011 when the financial support for FRAME ended and the Exhibition Exchange Centre ceased to exist under the Academy. The Ministry ordered the Artists’ Association of Finland to establish a new organisation at the beginning of 2012. The new Frame Foundation was established in May 2012. Frame Contemporary Art Finland is a contemporary art organisation and information centre. Its board is nominated by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Due to these great changes, the Fine Arts Academy of Finland started to look for a new direction for its activities. The rules of the Foundation were updated and now its goal is to promote, support, and develop visual arts through exhibitions, publications, grants, and awards. The focus is on promoting Finnish visual arts on both the professional and amateur levels. Painter Antti Linnovaara, who chaired the board of the Academy from 2012 to 2019, had an important role in planning and implementing the foundation’s new activities.

The Academy’s current activities consist of regularly organising a seminar on current topics and awarding a prize to a Finnish visual artist. The Fine Arts Academy of Finland Prize is awarded every three years in collaboration with EMMA (Espoo Museum of Modern Art) and the City of Espoo. The prize consists of a significant financial award, a solo exhibition in EMMA, and an exhibition publication.

The seminar aims to discuss topics that are interesting and current in the world of visual arts in ways that appeal to both professionals and enthusiasts in the field. Previous seminars have dealt with topics such as artists’ self-censorship and the prospects of Finnish art.

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland is not government funded and the funding for the activities comes mainly from investment profits and donations and funds granted to the Foundation for distribution. The most significant funds granted for distribution come from the Gerda and Salomo Wuorio Foundation. The Foundation also receives donations from the Rafael Ahlström Foundation managed by the City of Helsinki. The City of Espoo also substantially supports the Art Prize.

(References: Suomen Taideakatemia 50 vuotta; Suomen Taideakatemian vuosijulkaisu 1940-1948, Helsinki 1949)