Tag Archives: museum

Understanding Finland by Art

During my last visit to Helsinki I did something that I recommend every tourist to do. I visited some of the most important art museums of the Finnish capital: Ateneum Art Museum, Design Museum and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.

This may sound like a lot of museums to do in one trip, but in my opinion these museums provide interesting insight into what Finland used to be, how it has evolved, what it represents today and where it is heading to. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that what you will learn about Finland through art in these museums will lay foundations for your further encounters in Finland and make you better understand this sparsely populated but geographically big country, sometimes also described obscure.

My first mission was to visit Ateneum and particularly its “Highlights of the Collections” section. To me this is where I would get to the roots of Finland; time travel to the Romantic Nationalism era of the late 19th century when Finnish artists begun to praise local traditions and culture. Kalevala (the national epic) and its mythology, lakes, majestic scenery, peasants, folklore and nationhood were recurring themes in the paintings of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eero Järnefelt, Albert Edelfelt, Helene Schjerfbeck, Hugo Simberg, to mention a few.Kullervo Cursing by Akseli Gallen-KallelaAs every Finn, I have seen these masterpieces thousands of times, but I wanted to revisit them to see what they can explain to me about my country of origin. As I continued observing, I was reminded of the harsh living conditions of this northern country, the period of the Swedish and then Russian rule, as well as of the solitary personality type of a Finn who still often is more relaxed alone (or in the nature) than with other people.

Wandering in front of some of the most famous Finnish paintings did open the door to the Finnish soul and I understood that what these artists expressed more than 100 years ago is still very much alive. Today, the Finns continue to love the nature and lakes, and forest is a place of meditation. Indeed, this is why in Finland there are about 500,000 summer houses, sacred places where Finns jump into their dear lake in all weathers, often naked as in this painting. The Aino triptych by Akseli Gallen-KallelaOn my way out of Ateneum my mind was stuck on Finland that was an agrarian state much longer than its neighbors. How did this country that was so poor just over 100 years ago became one of the richest and most gender-equal nations of the 21th century? The answer to this question was to be found in my next destination, Design Museum, where I was going to witness the transformation that Finland underwent. First around its independence in 1917 and second immediately after the Second World War that left the country ruined and badly injured physically and psychologically.Lemminkäinen's Mother by Akseli Gallen-KallelaAlready during the Russian rule Finland had taken steps toward showing its distinctiveness. The artistic triumph of the Romantic Nationalism era culminated in the Paris World’s Fair in 1900 when Finland made its international breakthrough: “we are culturally different from Russia” was what Finland was saying to the world and the world loved the message.

When Finland gained its independence seventeen years later, architecture and design played an important role in the identity making. The poor, agrarian past remained in the back of the mind of designers, encouraging them to create simple and practical but aesthetic objects, often in harmony with the nature and natural materials. The predominant Protestant religion further directed the designers toward plain and unornamented creations.Alvar Aalto chairs at Design MuseumThe years following the Second World War filled Finnish homes with tears and poverty, but some comfort was brought to the Finns by the international success of Finnish design. The postwar period in Finland is called the Golden Age of Finnish Design and for a good reason. This is when Artek, Arabia and Marimekko became internationally sough-after brands. The Aalto vase, created in 1936, continued to travel around the world, and Jackie Kennedy stood by her husband wearing a Marimekko dress in 1960. The Finns were slowly but surely recovering from the wounds of the war.

Finnish design continued to strengthen its domestic and international position in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. New materials like plastic emerged, creating new opportunities for designers like Eero Aarnio and Yrjö Kukkapuro who became forerunners of plastic chair design. As Finland grew richer, design expanded to home appliances (for example, Fiskars scissors) and various aspects of daily life (for example, Helsinki got its funky orange metro in 1982). Design MuseumIndeed, during many decades Finnish design and art were seen as means to serve everyday needs, and everyday needs were seen as opportunities to create design and art. Convenient! Very Finnish! The moment I understood this idea, I understood a lot about Finland. Art and design were always meant to be available for everyone, regardless of person’s social class. The fact that every Finnish home is full of “design objects” is probably one of the best proofs of successful nation building that is equal and democratic…?

Now, let’s fast forward to the ’90s. Once again Finland took big international steps and Finnish design contributed to the success of the world’s most famous telephone, the Nokia phone. However, this was not all that was happening. During the ’90s Finland embraced the world in an unseen way. Finland’s EU negotiations coincided with the construction of Finland’s first truly international museum, Kiasma. Curiously, but as a reflection of the spirit of the time, it was designed by an American architect. KiasmaSome have compared Kiasma to Espace Louis Vuitton and Pompidou Center, but during my visit I realized that there was something particularly Finnish about Kiasma’s approach to contemporary art. Its desire to create a dialogue. In fact Kiasma is a platform where a dialogue between decision makers, artists, audience and society takes place, and as a demonstration of its ideology, I stumbled upon an exhibition curated by Finnish daycare children. Talking about participation and engagement!

While I admired Steven Holl‘s minimalist hence oh-so-Finnish architecture, I realized that Kiasma played and still plays a very symbolic role: it is a prime example of Finland’s forward-looking attitude. Finland has strongly tied its development to the future (as opposed to some countries that are more past-focused) and is open to the world. As Ville Kylätasku, an aspiring, young Finnish artist residing in Berlin told me, “To me, Kiasma is like a window through which Finland looks at the outside world”.

So, what did visiting these museums teach me about Finland? That art has played a strong role in the Finnish identity making. That art is practical and accessible. That often design objects and daily needs look the same. That Finland is a young country still looking for its place. That even after Nokia Finland will continue making international headlines. That there is nothing more sacred than a lake (and if you a foreigner visiting Finland, do jump –preferably naked– into that lake!).

Ateneum: http://www.ateneum.fi
Design Museum: http://www.designmuseum.fi
Kiasma: http://www.kiasma.fi


Note: The idea behind this write-up was to see what kind of Finland-related emotions and ideas these three museums bring to me –“me” being someone who left Finland in the ’90s, travelled the world and settled (at least for the time being) in Paris. “Me” being someone who finds herself no longer fully Finnish and not yet (and maybe never?) French, but who is interested in individual and national identities.

Do notice also that I am not an art historian. I have tried to check facts and figures, but as always, do your own research and certainly do not take every word and sentence I wrote as a representative of the absolute truth. These are my ideas and should be taken only as such. 

Lastly, I would love to hear your opinion about Finland and Finnish art! Please do so by writing your comment below this post, by Facebook (Pearlspotting) or by Twitter ()!

Naked Men and Peacock Brushes

Sarnath to Buddhists is what Varanasi is to Hindus, but many people forget that Sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site to Jains. So important, that a careful observer can spot some very devoted Jains visiting the Sarnath complex. In fact so devoted that some of them are naked.

What? What do Sarnath, nudity and Jainisn have in common?? Continue reading to find out more.

I had just finished touring the Archaeological Museum of Sarnath (a really fantastic, small museum!) and was drinking water outside the museum entrance when my brain registered something “weird”. There they were, five fully-naked men, walking toward me. They were tanned, I noticed, and they wore absolutely nothing (I had to look twice to be sure). The only accessory each one of these men had was a beautiful, rather big brush made of peacock feather.

peacock-feather brush

It was one of those moments when my brain didn’t register very well everything happening around me. I looked at my husband, wondering if he had seen the same thing but I was also simultaneously asking myself if my water could have been drugged. My husband looked at me, and without hesitation we returned to the museum –partially fascinated by the most amazing appearance of nakedness, partially embarrassed of our brains that were sending signals of “strangeness”.

Indeed, why did we label nudity strange? Why were we astonished while the men seemed so content and at peace? Were our brains too narrow-minded and “western”? 

We followed the footsteps of these men during ten minutes and there was a lot to admire. Their courage to walk around naked. Their muscled bodies that had no tan lines. Their super elegant peacock brushes. Their deep concentration in front of the 2500-year-old statues. Their capacity to ignore people like us who could not take their eyes off them.

Eventually the men left the museum. They could have been transported away by flying peacocks and it would not have surprised me any more.

They left behind peace. We were smiling –no longer at the nakedness but at the beauty of this world and the diversity of India.


Note: Obviously I did not ask these men to pose for a photograph, so instead of naked men you will have to look at my legs!
The peacock fan in the photo is not identical to the one these Jain men had.

Revisiting Angkor

Today was the last day of the exhibition Angkor, Birth of a Myth- Louis Delaporte and Cambodia at Museum Guimet in Paris. Coincidentally, it was almost one year ago that I visited these ancient temples myself. Angkor exhibition, museum GuimetEven if we spent a rather long time (five full days!) in Siem Reap (Eat Drink Sleep Siem Reap (survival guide to Siem Reap) visiting nearby temples, I still felt it was not sufficient to really absorb and understand what had happened in the past. “Who what why when” became more complicated than ever! There were the Hindu Kings, then Buddhism; there were many different empires. To notice architectural details each religion brought to different temples during different times was not always easy, and having a lousy guide did not help. Indeed, it felt very overwhelming to be honest. And maybe this is why I still have not written anything about the Angkor temples (after one year!!).Angkor, museum GuimetHowever, visiting the exhibition this afternoon enlightened me. It was such a great pleasure to see old drawings, photos, maps, paintings, moldings, replicates, etc. that I now feel one step closer to actually being able to write something about this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Meanwhile, have you ever felt the same about a historic or archaeological place somewhere in the world?

More information about the exhibition: http://culturoid.com/2013/10/angkor-birth-of-a-myth-louis-delaporte-and-cambodia-musee-guimet-paris/ 

Museum Guimet: www.guimet.frMuseum GuimetPS Museum Guimet is an architectural pearl. It hosts one of the best Asian art collections of the world, if not the very best. So pay a visit if interested in Asian art.

Weekend in Copenhagen

My last visit to Copenhagen was back in the 80’s and I only remember two things about that trip: Tivoli and the Little Mermaid. So, when I knew I would spend a long weekend in this Danish capital in the end of August, I was naturally curious. And what I found was a true cosmopolitan city: quirky, fashionable and grand yet minimalistic!Church in Copenhagen

These are my personal highlights of that weekend (in no particular order):

1. That famous Little Mermaid. We happened to be in Copenhagen when this landmark celebrated its 100th birthday. If you happen to be in Copenhagen on August 23, then find out what celebrations take place that day. We witnessed 100 human mermaids jump to the sea to swim near the statue. To see the video about this event, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EX8xIsKgVz4the little mermaid

2. Boat cruising. Water is present everywhere in Copenhagen, and the city and the sea live in harmony. A good way to get an idea of this is to buy a one-hour ticket to metro, bus or train, which also includes hopping onto boats called Havnebus. I loved doing this and it is such an excellent way to get a glimpse of Copenhagen’s mentality! boat cruising in Copenhagen

I also loved the boat stops:boat cruising in Copenhagen

3. Architecture. Have you heard of Arne Jacobsen? How about Jørn Oberg Utzon, the name behind Sydney Opera House? They both come from Denmark and have paved the way for new Danish architects that keep emerging year after year. The list of buildings to see in Copenhagen is next to endless, but this gives you some idea: http://www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/architecture/top-10-architecture Danish architecture

The main elements of the Danish architecture (water, light, sustainability and space) were present wherever I looked, and personally I appreciated how the docks have been converted into restaurant, galleries, museums, art schools and architectural bureaus.the docks in Copenhagen

This lighthouse (?) is one of my favorite architectural masterpieces and it put such a smile on my face!lighthouse in Copenhagen

4. Design. The Nordic countries are known for their design and Denmark is no less important than its neighbors. It has produced its fair share of names that are recognized all over the world and the Danes are proud of this for a good reason. Danish Design Center

Design is everywhere you go, and it combines style,  minimalism and practicality. When walking, look around and you will see esthetic objects all over. design object

5. Food. To see what young chefs are capable of creating, make a dinner reservation at Mielcke & Hurtigkarl: Danish gourmet at its best  but make sure to arrive early to visit the romantic Frederiksberg Have park.  For lunch, head to the inside food market called Torvehallerne, which has a wide selection of highest-quality food shops and restaurants (http://www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/gastronomy/torvehallerne). Sushi Lovers, an award-winning Japanese  restaurant, as well as Palæo, Denmark’s first restaurant serving stone-age food, are located here. Torvehallerne, Paleo-restaurant

We opted for Hallernes Smørrebrød, because I really wanted to eat herrings. They have an excellent selection of delicious small rye breads with different toppings, but in order to benefit from the wide selection, arrive early! smørrebrød

Final words: some other “obvious things” one should do are walking along Nyhavn (and stop for a waffle at Vaffelbageren!), spending an evening at Tivoli, renting a bike, etc., but this is something every guide book will tell you. I hope that I managed to portray a slightly different image of Copenhagen and helped you to choose your next weekend-trip destination!

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Salvador Dali’s house in Portlligat

House in Portlligat was the only stable residence of Dali from the -30’s onwards. This is where he worked and lived with Gala, his wife, until her death in 1982. We made an overnight trip from France to this northeastern corner of Spain to see the house yesterday.Salvador Dali house Portlligat

Once inside, the first thing one notices is a huge polar bear holding a lamp. An owl is watching the bear and the visitors. The entrance makes an impression!Entrance to house-museum of Dali, Portlligat

From the entrance the tour continues to the dining room, the studio, the library, the bedroom (the biggest room in the house) and other rooms.

The dining room:Salvador Dali's dining room

The library: Salvador Dali's library

The bedroom (can you spot the animal?):Bedroom of Dali and Gala

Wall decoration: Dali Portlligat

Posters that cover the dressing: The dressing in Dali's house Portlligat

Lastly, one can visit the garden and the pool area: the pool area Portlligat

The guided visit takes about 40 minutes and the house is definitely worth the visit! Be prepared to see a lot of stuffed animals… And remember that one must reserve by internet or telephone. In summer, it is not unusual to book 5-6 days in advance.

Information and booking: http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/portlligat/en_index.html

Warming up for FIAC

After my meeting in the 16th arrondissement this afternoon, I started walking toward Grand Palais, which equals FIAC this week. However, on my way, there was Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, one of my favorite museums in Paris. So, I walked in. It has been several months that I have not have my Delaunay, Dufy and Modigliani dose! Dufy, The Electricity FairyThe permanent collection of this museum is free, and the building is full of light. I describe this museum “cheerful”. It rarely is a top priority for a tourist visiting Paris, but in my opinion it makes an excellent introduction to the turn-of-the-century artists. I find Dufy’s La Fée Electricité (The Electricity Fairy) fascinating.

After an hour or so, I walked out. But there was another “obstacle” between me and FIAC. Palais Tokyo was a few steps away, so I decided to check out its new restaurant Monsieur Bleu. I loved the interior design and thought that the green, which dominated the restaurant, was a particularly beautiful shade of green. There was also a dark grey fireplace made of marble, almost identical to the one we have at home. The lamps were massive but discreet. Indeed, I give full ten points to Monsieur Bleu’s looks!  Monsieur Bleu

By the time I closed the heavy metal door of Monsieur Bleu, my feet stopped cooperating. No FIAC today, they told me.

Mea culpa –a new try tomorrow or Saturday!

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: http://www.mam.paris.fr/

The Electricity Fairy (by Dufy): http://www.mam.paris.fr/en/node/359

Monsieur Bleu: http://monsieurbleu.com/

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The Palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

Tourists come to Heraklion to see mainly two attractions: the Palace of Knossos (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh351.jsp?obj_id=2369) and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/1/eh151.jsp?obj_id=3327). Internet is full of information about these two sites so I will focus on sharing my impressions and some practical information.

The Bull-Leaping Fresco IMG_2944

Knossos is exactly 7km away from the Old Harbour. Guide books tell you to arrive before 10am in order to avoid the crowds but we arrived at 11am and it was not yet crowded (well, the last time we visited a site like this it was the Angkor Temples in Cambodia and it was VERY busy, so nothing will probably ever feel the same afterwards!) But please notice that we were visiting Knossos outside the peak season.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

Prior to visiting Knossos we had heard quite a bit of criticism about the site’s excavation and restoration efforts but we thought everything was pretty well done and clear. The Fresco Gallery was my favorite. It was interesting to hear that the Minoans had taken a special liking to the nature and animals, and beautiful and colorful birds, as well as monkeys, were brought from Egypt to Crete. Many exotic-looking animals are therefore featured on the frescoes and clay jars.


Lonely Planet Crete (2012) provides you with an itinerary how to visit Knossos (starting by the West and the North Court), but the signs at the site tell you to do the opposite. I don’t have an opinion on this; both seem to work. Knossos costs 6€ per person and for 10€ you can buy a ticket that includes the Museum (it is valid during one week), but it is not necessary because the museum ticket brought separately costs 4€ (there is no discount).

We visited first Knossos and the Museum the next day but it is totally feasible to visit Knossos and the Museum the same day. However, I would recommend to keep this order: first Knossos, then the Museum. The Museum wraps up nicely everything that you saw and read in Knossos.

Archaeological Museum of Herakleion

The museum is under renovation and at the moment there are only three areas open to the public: around the corner from the main building you have the main collection with excellent explanations and in the main building there are two room: one for statues and one for the famous frescoes. I was told there will be more rooms open this summer but no details were shared.

I do not consider myself as someone crazy about museums but I fell in love with the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the history of Knossos. Knowing that this is where the first European city was developing almost 4000 years ago really struck me.

24 hours in Kuala Lumpur

Our recent Southeast Asia trip begun in Kuala Lumpur and I wrote 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur about the time we spent in this exciting city. As often in life, it is important that the circle comes to an end, so here you go with “24 hours in Kuala Lumpur”, describing the last day of our trip before returning to Paris.

First of all, I have to say that I was so impressed with Malaysia in general. We had very few expectations and KL to us was supposed to be “just a hub”, but it totally charmed us. Now we are joking about retirement in Penang (if we don’t retire in our beloved India!). Malaysians, in my humble opinion, are very kind, educated and excellent in communication. There is something sort of “American” in them in a way that they have a very developed sense of service, they master the small talk and they like interacting with other people. (FYI: Malaysia’s tourism organization is not paying me for saying this, but should you read this and would like me to become your Ambassador, I am ready to become one!)

To prove my impressions right, I am proud to say that I have a new friend in KL and his name is Jamil Kucing. He has an animal shelter and he is well-known among locals. You can read the entire story in 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur and to find more about Jamil the Catman see his blog: http://jamilthecatman.blogspot.com.  We have exchanged emails since my return to Paris, agreeing to meet up the next time I am in KL. Jamil offered to lend me his spare scooter so that we can cruise around KL with monkeys in our back seats! How cool is that….

During this trip, we only visited KL and Langkawi, but I got an impression it was very clean everywhere. The food was diversified, representing the rich history of Malaysia, and delicious. What comes to architecture, I felt that the construction projects were realized in harmony with the nature. In fact what I saw in Malaysia reminded me of Costa Rica where I worked during five months: in Langkawi almost all tourism activities were related to either nature or animals and in Kuala Lumpur the city looked green and I could see and smell the nature. The photo below was taken from our hotel room. Notice how lush it is!

Kuala Lumpur city view

HOTEL: During our first stay in Kuala Lumpur we stayed at Capitol Hotel (http://www.hotelcapitol-kualalumpur.com/‎). This time, as our Air Asia flight from Langkawi landed in quite late, we decided to stay closer to Sentral and reserved IMG_2170at Le Meridien (http://www.lemeridienkualalumpur.com/). Le Meridien is very conveniently located right next to Sentral which is KL’s transportation hub (that in the end we did not use). We were given an upgrade upon arrival, went straight to sleep and started the next day with a coffee by the lovely pool. We paid MYR 220 (72USD) at Hotel Capitol and MYR 348 (114USD) at Le Meridien. I agree that Le Meridien is very conveniently located for short visits and business trips, but for tourism reasons I think I prefer the location of Hotel Capitol. Both have a swimming pool and certainly Le Meridien pool is better, Brickfieldsbut the pool Hotel Capitol offers is not bad either (it is located at a nearby hotel and access is free). Worth mentioning is that you probably find food at any hour near Capitol Hotel but near Le Meridien, at best, you may just have McDonalds at Sentral. Well, I am happy I tried both hotels as it allowed me to see different parts of KL.

SIGHTS NEAR LE MERIDIEN HOTEL: After the pool session weThean Hou Temple wedding started sightseeing. It was not yet too hot so we walked toward Jalan Tun Sambanthan (a major road near the hotel, see the photo above). The area is called Brickfields and it is a home to many Tamils from India and Sri Lankans. Indian music was loud, spices in the air, Thean Hou Templeand this quick change in atmosphere was fascinating!

We got slightly lost but finally reached Thean Hou Temple, named after the Heavenly Mother. It is a modern-times temple, built in the 1980’s and open since 1989. It is dedicated to Buddhism and worth the climb. Architecturally it is a mixture of different styles: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. At the time of our visit there was a wedding of a lovely couple and we wished them well in their new life. I thought the bride was very stylish! Thean Hou Temple ceiling

Thean Hou Temple

ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM MALAYSIA: Another reason why we chose Le Meridien was that it has a relatively easy access to Islamic Arts Museum (http://www.iamm.org.my/). From the temple we took a taxi to this museum (it was getting too hot to walk!). The building is very new (1998), spacious and spotlesminiature Koransly clean. We had a quick snack at the Museum Restaurant before starting the exploration. I could go on and on about how fantastic this museum is, but let me begin by saying that it should be on everyone’s What To Do in Kuala Lumpur -list. Objects are beautiful (I adored the miniature Korans!!) and the display is very clear and welcoming. It is a very Islamic architecture mapeducative museum and there are many excellent well-done and clear maps, like the one about the Islamic architecture in the world, with a special focus in the Malay Archipelago (see the photo).

I will definitely go back the next time when I am in KL because there is so much to learn about the Islamic influence, architecture, art, calligraphy, Koran, etc. Geographically the museum focuses equally in each region of the world, and for example after having done some extensive traveling in India, I found it useful to see maps and chronological explanations about the great Mughal Empire in India (1526-1858).  Please go and see this museum: it is fascinating!!

DINNER: After some Jalan Alor restaurantretail therapy it was time to eat dinner. We were really eager to re-taste seafood that we had had during our previous stay, so we returned to our usual Sai Woo Restaurant, located at 55 Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang. The street is full of restaurants that offer different local specialties and most restaurants have menus that come with pictures to help those unfamiliar with the variety of food Malaysia offers. Sai Woo Restaurant

We ordered far too much food, but as it was our last dinner in Asia, we were anticipating the return to Europe…. Double Variety Kai Lan, Lotus Roots with Macadamia Nuts, Spicy “Kam Heong” Bamboo Shell, and many more dishes with names I cannot remember including duck, chicken satay and razor shells…. (I am getting hungry as writing this!). We did not ask, but I wonder if we could have taken a doggy bag to the airport…?

After the dinner we returned for a foot massage in a place around the corner from the restaurant (see 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur), had a quick shower at the hotel and caught a taxi to the airport to catch an Emirates A380 back to Paris.

Malaysia Truly Asia (http://www.tourism.gov.my/‎), you chose an appropriate slogan and I will be back very soon inch’allah!