Tapio Wirkkala (1915 – 1985) is one of the internationally best-known Finns. Through his prolitic production of sculptures and design objects, Wirkkala became a leading figure in Finland`s modern applied arts, and a pioneer of abstract sculpture in postwar Finland.
Wirkkala’s fame is perhaps most of all on account of his work as a designer. As a designer, he was as adept with glass and porcelain as with wood, metal or acrylic. He was the creative impetus behind many of the legendary designs produced by art-glass and porcelain factories such as Iittala in Finland, Rosenthal in Germany and Venini in Italy. Wirkkala involved himself in the production processes of the companies for which he worked, often making the prototype himself. According to Wirkkala materials have their own rules that dictate the artistic process and his job as an artist was to free the inner potential of each material.
The exhibition at SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum marks the first time a wide range of Tapio Wirkkala’s production is presented to the Norwegian public. The exhibition’s main focus is on his plywood sculptures – works which gained international attention already in the 1950s. To create these, Wirkkala combined his understanding of materials with his wide knowledge of international tendencies in modern abstract sculpture . The use of Finnish material (birch wood) in these works, their fascinating flexing lines and abstract nature-lyricism, have caused them to stand as internationally recognized symbols of Finnish Modernism. In addition to these sculptures, the exhibition presents many designed objects made in wood, metal, glass and porcelain, thus drawing formal connections between Wirkkala’s dual identity as a designer and an independent artist.
Wirkkala was a versatile artist and was interested in making mundane useful objects as much as producing abstract sculptures. He could act as a graphic designer in one moment and then as an architect in the next. In addition to making a mark on the everyday lives of Finns in the postwar years, he gained great international recognition, won many prizes, and acted for many years as a figurehead for Finnish design. His diverse, prolific production displays a freedom and profusion of ideas that cuts across the boundaries of art and design. In addition to understanding materials and having a deep respect for craftsmanship, his practice forecasted how many younger artists today move freely within a wider field of creativity.
The exhibition is produced through collaboration between SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kunstmuseet i Tønder, EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art, and the Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation. It is funded in part by World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 and Nordic Culture Fund.
Antti Siltavuori, Wirkkalas friend and past chairman of Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation is curator for the exhibition , together with dictor of EMMA, Markku Valkonen. Karl Olav Segrov Mortensen, curator SKMU.