Niina Lehtonen Braun: Mother said: ”Ask Your Father”, 6.10. – 24.10.2010 Galleria Huuto Uudenmaankatu
Niina Lehtonen-Braun is a Finnish artist who lives and works in Berlin, Germany. With a little over ten years of active working history since graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, her work was exhibited in the center of Helsinki in Galleria Huuto from 6th to 24th of October, 2010. I went to see Braun’s ASK YOUR FATHER solo show a week ago, and frankly didn’t like what I saw.
I feel rather lonely in this rare breed of today’s aestheticians, who demand true artistic merits from the works on display. It doesn’t matter if the institution hosting an exhibition is a national museum or a private gallery, they hold the same responsibility to deliver quality. In the sphere of so called contemporary art the deficiency of these merits is more a rule than an exception – either the technique used is poorly mastered in regards to the subject matter, or the subject matter itself is something not worthy of processing at all. In the case of this exhibition under scrutiny, I would dare to say both.
I don’t know, but I guess nowadays our galleries are swarming with people whose main motivation of visiting them is to see what is happening. People like myself, who rarely find time to see what’s going on in the sphere of art today, are more after an aesthetic experience. Quality instead of quantity could be the rule of thumb in this regard. ASK YOUR FATHER left me totally empty handed in regards to an aesthetic experience. The experience I had could be described as descending into a scrap book of a person doing art therapy.
The small, but ever so intimate, gallery space of Huuto had its walls covered with photographs, magazine clips, drawings et cetera with written quotes from mothers. Lehtonen-Braun has collected these quotes from numerous people, asking them of mother’s advices that stayed with them to adulthood. Some of these quotes are funny, some interesting. But most are left to hang somewhere in the borders of understanding, with very little or no apparent contact with the visual material provided.
This was my main feeling of the exhibition: not understanding, and on a level very deep and profound suspicion that there was really nothing to understand. And that, my friends, really made me angry. It made me angry, because in my opinion art serves an important psychological function to man, and the material set on display here was not serving that function. This service that I am expecting is that of integration, of seeing a variety of perspectives derived from this material sphere that is our world to a new and comprehensible whole. We, as human beings, need this in order to experience through an outer object, artistic object, that the feeling we have of existence is a feeling shared by others, a feeling which can be communicated through great works of art, so great they become timeless. On the contrary, what ASK YOUR FATHER provided was a disintegrated mess.
I try to look at the possible positive side of things, like all of us. In regards to ASK YOUR FATHER I spent some time thinking about its value as a sociological study. But, unfortunately, even that didn’t take me far, because a study demands to be delivered in a coherent manner, as well as good art does. Was the exhibition entertaining? Possibly for someone it could be entertaining. But, like I said, in my case the disintegrating quality of the works drove over all possibilities of feeling entertained.
So, in the end, this small exhibition felt like a waste of my time. I hope that this criticism has not wasted yours however, for instead I wish it to open some eyes and encourage people to recognize in themselves a need for truly moving, communicating, subliminal art, which is capable of such transcendence that it heals a cognitive faculty stressed out in today’s hectic world. Thus, may this be my recommendation for the darkening fall: enjoy the pride of being part of humanity through works of grand masters of art. For this is something we all equally need, and have right to experience.