TURNING POINT – Finnish book covers from the 1950s and 1960s and the art these decades inspired
14 October 2022 – 30 April 2023
Turning Point is dedicated to an exploration of Finnish book cover design and the relationship between book covers and fine art. The exhibition takes as its focal point one of the golden eras of Finnish book cover design, with priority given to works by Ahti Lavonen (1928–1970), better known for his work as a painter, and graphic designer Martti Mykkänen (1926–2008). Both men were driven by the pursuit of a truly free form of expression, albeit with one taking a more disciplined and the other a more disinhibited approach to the endeavour. Their distinct perspectives on the era, and on book art, provide a complementary insight into the topic. A further dimension to the exhibition will be added by contemporary art: Panu Rytkönen’s (born 1983) sculpture Road Trip – from the 1950s to the 2020s (2022) draws its inspiration from Finnish books from the 1950s and 1960s and the inscriptions added to them by their authors.
The exhibition will run from 14 October 2022 until 30 April 2023 in Hämeenlinna Art Museum’s Engel Building (Viipurintie 2, Hämeenlinna). Curated by Ville Hänninen, journalist and author, and Soile Ollikainen, curator at Hämeenlinna Art Museum, it coincides with the launch of Ville Hänninen’s new title Käännekohta: kansitaiteen nousu 1950–60-luvuilla (Turning point: the rise of cover art in the 1950s and 1960s).
Ahti Lavonen and Martti Mykkänen: heralds of a new age
Turning Point chronicles an interesting cultural moment at a time when Finnish book art was evolving rapidly. Much of both the art and the entertainment that was created in the decades following World War II, from the visual arts to jazz, reflects a clear desire for change and renewal. This desire is evident in 1950s and 1960s book design, too, which drew influences from everything from modernist literature to the latest visual trends. While Finnish design was making waves abroad, illustrators and book and advertising designers were ushering in a new era at home.
Martti Mykkänen was one of the leading graphic designers working in Finland in the 1950s and 1960s, but, above all, he was a book cover artist, who, over a period spanning less than two decades, produced an immense oeuvre of 450 designs. His technique encompassed papercutting, collage and a sculptural use of typography, and his designs are typified by their bold and dynamic poster-like aesthetic. For Mykkänen, letters were always more than just letters, and he was particularly accomplished at rendering them in a way that was decorative yet clear. His distinctive style is in evidence across his book cover designs but also his work on magazines and serials.
Ahti Lavonen was one of Finland’s leading artists of the 1960s and a member of the so-called Brondan vintti artist collective. He represented Finland on two occasions at the Venice Biennale and once at the São Paulo Art Biennial, while the Ars 61 exhibition in Helsinki marked his breakthrough at home. Lavonen is known to have created at least twenty-four poetry book cover designs and two novel cover designs for Finnish publishing houseOtava Publishing Company. He also created the catalogue for his own exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum and the cover and illustrations for Markku Lappalainen’s Road trip poetry poster. Lavonen’s designs incorporated contemporary art influences into Finnish book cover design. Lavonen’s paintings are defined by their colour and form as well as their texture, which is created by the materials used and a series of indentations, scrapes and furrows. His book covers are informed not just by the atmosphere that prevails in his paintings but also by his free flowing ink drawings. Lavonen’s book designs are dominated by powerful and naturally flowing brush strokes and shapes.
Panu Rytkönen’s Road Trip – from the 1950s to the 2020s is a topsy-turvy, surreal journey
A third perspective, highlighting the playfulness and sheer versatility of this era, is brought to the exhibition by the artist Panu Rytkönen, whose sculptural installation draws its inspiration from Finnish books from the 1950s and 1960s and the inscriptions added to them by their authors. It was inspired by seven books discovered in the artist’s own private library and is presented as a dialogue between them. They books include Kalevi Lappalainen’s Trippi (1966), illustrated by Ahti Lavonen, Väinö Linna’s Tuntematon sotilas (1954, WSOY), Hannu Salama’s Juhannustanssit (1964, Otava) sekä Marko Tapio’s Se kesä on mennyt (1964, WSOY).
Road Trip – from the 1950s to the 2020s (2022) is a topsy-turvy and surreal journey and a flight of fancy. It is a meditation on the spirit of the 1950s and 1960s, and an exploration of what remains, and what has been lost over time. Have the dreams and ideals that defined these decades vanished or are they still present in the here and now?
Panu Rytkönen received a Master’s degree from Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts in 2008. His most recent solo exhibitions include Galleria Sculptor (2022), Galleria Huuto (2020) and Forum Box (2018).
The exhibition coincides with the publication of Ville Hänninen’s Turning point: the rise of cover art in the 1950s and 1960s
The exhibition coincides with the publication of Ville Hänninen’s latest title Käännekohta: kansitaiteen nousu 1950–60-luvuilla (Turning point: the rise of cover art in the 1950s and 1960s). It is published by Hämeenlinna Art Museum, with graphic design and layout by Ville Tietäväinen. Ville Hänninen, Ville Tietäväinen and the wider book project have been supported by grant funding from the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Uuden Suomettaren Säätiö foundation and the Association of Visual Communication Designers in Finland (Grafia).
Ville Hänninen (born 1976) is a non-fiction author, journalist and essayist. His earlier titles include Muuten se on mennyttä – kirjoituksia taiteista, Kirjan kasvot – sata vuotta suomalaisia kirjankansia and Keskipäivän miehiä – kuvia Suomen historiasta.