Pekka Kauhanen: The Hound, the Boy and the Snowman

Helsingin Taidehalli 29.1.–13.3.2011

The sculptor Pekka Kauhanen is at Kunsthalle Helsinki, creating worlds that tempt us to hilarious interpretations, worlds that at the least cannot be accused of being humourless or narrow-minded.

Pekka Kauhanen (b. 1954) is one of Finland’s leading and most original sculptors. Over thirty years, the carnival of themes in his sculptures has ranged from representational figures, torsos and dogs to abstract spirals of thought and back to the representational again. His new figures are headless suit men, smiling boys and snowmen. “I am (at most) a magical realist”, Kauhanen says in the catalogue.

Out of the disorderly eclecticism of his themes at Kunsthalle Helsinki Kauhanen constructs integrated wholes, in which individual sculptures combine to form tribes in a Kauhanen-esque fantasy world. This exhibition produced by the Finnish Art Association presents Kauhanen’s main themes starting from the 1980s, but the main emphasis is on the latest bronze and aluminium figures from the 2000s.

The start of the 2000s was a time when Kauhanen’s art lost its head, as Altti Kuusamo writes in the exhibition catalogue. The sculpture’s head was on its shoulder, hidden by foam, or absent altogether, as it was from the empty-jacketed suit men (2002). In 2003, the first top-hatted Snowman, the antithesis of dignity, appeared in Kauhanen’s world. The Snowman nation is still growing, since Kauhanen constantly modifies, develops and remodels his central themes.

The sculptural clans given birth to by Kauhanen in the 2000s also include ultra-positive ‘boys, who take on the world in the grip of innocent enthusiasm. The Art Police (2006) at the Tapiola traffic roundabout smiles uninhibitedly so that his teeth show. The Sun Boy sculpture (2007–2010), which is so bright that it is almost unbearable to Finns!, will be having exploits in various parts of Helsinki during the Kunsthalle exhibition!

Pekka Kauhanen is also known for his numerous public works, for instance, the controversial Urho Kekkonen memorial Big Time (1990) in Kajaani. The artist himself explained the work’s disputed hour-glass-like, spiral shape: as “a living likeness of Kekkonen’s time and thinking”. Also striding into the exhibition from that same breakthrough period is Sweet-Smelling Step, a public statue sited in Kurkimäki in Helsinki.

Kauhanen’s sculptures might be enigmatic, strange even, but it is easy to approach them. The sculpture figures conceal within them a mischief that often brings a smile of recognition to viewers’ lips. “If the Savo mentality were cast as a sculpture, it would use Pekka Kauhanen’s form language,” Vexi Salmi has quipped. The works are interpretatively permissive – playfulness seems to be the life-blood both of Kauhanen’s sculptures and of the public’s interpretations. So, let the game begin, there’s plenty of room for interpretation!

The exhibition has been produced by the Finnish Art Society. The writers in the catalogue for this Pekka Kauhanen retrospective are Professor Altti Kuusamo and Art Historian Pessi Rautio. The catalogue has been edited by Pirkko Tuukkanen MA and the foreword written by the Chair of the Finnish Art Association, Veikko Kasurinen.

Pekka Kauhanen: Huojuva askel, 1990. Foto: Pertti Nisonen.