The Triumph of Finnish Surrealism of the 1940’s

By Edouard Frenhofer


I will readily admit that I took it for an elaborate joke, upon first hearing of the discovery of the Finnish village of Kaskinen in the Ostrobothnia region as a stronghold of surrealist art. As it turned out, the joke was on me, the work of Kaskinen's hitherto obscure artistic community now widely considered the most fruitful expression of surrealist art in history, far surpassing what in retrospect seems to be the vague formal exercises of Dali, Magritte and Ernst. This, however, was only the first of a series of remarkable events that have unfolded since the discovery of Aku Hämäläinen, Aki Koskinen and the rest of their group, whose members all mysteriously disappeared in two swipes, curiously coinciding with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 5 and 9, 1945. Now, thanks to the research and groundbreaking discoveries of art historian Chaim Aronin and his team, revealed to an unsuspecting art world four years ago, their legacy lives on.

The mind-altering effects of the 70+-year-old paintings of the Kaskinian surrealists on a contemporary audience has been likened to that of the first film screening of the Lumiére brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat to a Parisian theater audience in 1896, where, overwhelmed by the moving image of a locomotive driving directly towards them, the audience panicked and ran to the back of the theater; judging from the initial psychological and physiological reactions to the Kaskinian artists’ work, painting suddenly seemed as fresh and new as cinema did in 1896. Needless to say, the paintings of Hämäläinen, Koskinen and Järvinen created a splash and within a couple of years after their rediscovery almost every important modern art museum in the world had acquired their works, which also became the subject of much-hyped exhibitions, such as the now legendary MoMa exhibition - named after Hämäläinen’s 1944 work “Green skin of Heaven in a Drought, Kindled by Velvet Curtains – The Supranatural Taste of Spring, Not Yet Oceanized Blue, Blue”.

The subsequent events can be roughly summed up as follows: at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a hall was devoted to the Kaskinian surrealists. A month after the installation of the works, the paintings and sculptures in the neighbouring hall - mostly Picassos - could be observed changing, day by day. The curious thing was that not only did they change, they changed in a specific way that somehow increasingly, and finally undeniably, made them more surrealistic.  Over the course of a week, Picasso’s painted wooden sculpture Head of a Woman (1954) turned into a pink mushroom cloud, then expanded into a Dalisque desert landscape filling the entire floor of the hall. The body of Venus, in his oil painting L’Aubade (1942), swelled up to double - then thrice - its size, finally protruding out of the canvas like a puffed-up balloon. Several eyewitnesses observed the bloated, yet seemingly weightless, body gliding silently into the hall containing the Kaskinian surrealist’s work; here it disappeared into Koskinen’s painting The Origin of the Purple God Who Holds Reality on His Tongue (c. 1943), to become part of its scenery.

This form-altering effect continued into other halls of the museum, turning several Matisse paintings into pieces, the pieces then turning into color blots, staining the floors and walls of the Pompidou. The geometric abstractions of Kandinsky and Kupka fled their canvases, to become mutating fleshy beings haunting the halls of the museum, and especially the terrace of the Georges restaurant on top of the building. Elsewhere, many works of conceptual art shown at the Tate Modern in London evaporated into atoms, as if the ‘surrealist take-over’ would not materialize, and so the parasite instead decided to simply destroy all traces of its would-be host. 

Amazing and beyond belief as these events may appear, they nonetheless dwindle in comparison with the latest reports, of the Kaskinian surrealist works being directly linked to the resurrection of the bodies of several dead artists; William Blake has been spotted at the Tate in all his naked splendour, first as a spectral being, transparent and flying through the halls and stairways of the museum, then a week later as a fully materialized being of flesh and blood. Witnesses two weeks ago saw Van Gogh exiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, carrying his painting equipment.  

Needless to say, this is most likely not the last in the chain of remarkable events linked to the 1940's artworks of the surrealists of Kaskinen, Finland. I, for one, will be monitoring this case closely in the near future.