Espoo Museum of Modern Art

How interesting can storage be? The Bryk & Wirkkala: Visible Storage exhibition offers a hands-on experience full of warmth

Espoo Museum of Modern Art takes guests for a real behind-the-scenes tour into art and conservation in its exhibition dedicated to Rut Bryk and Tapio Wirkkala. This sneak peek allows for an in-depth look into the real work that goes on in a museum purely dedicated to conserving and presenting art.

Text: Elena Sulin

“Why are there works that we never see, and why is everything kept in storage?” asked a customer feedback form received by EMMA, Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland.

This made the EMMA staff along with Chief Curator of Collections Henna Paunu think. Would it be possible to exhibit works of art to the general public in a way that not only shows the pieces but also lets the visitors take a glimpse behind the scenes?

After considerable consideration, the answer arrived in the form of a collection of lifetime works by the artist couple Rut Bryk and Tapio Wirkkala donated to the museum by the Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation. A collection so vast it encompasses over 5000 pieces, out of which 2000 objects are concurrently present at the exhibition. A compilation which is deliciously curated to show anything from ceramics and glass to wood and textile works by Bryk. Were you already aware that she worked with woven fabric? “The Bryk & Wirkkala exhibition called Visible Storage offers an exceptional experience to visitors. It shows the lifelong work of this amazing couple while also allowing people to come close and have a look behind the scenes at the work that normally goes unseen at museums,” Paunu gladly states.

The project which opened in 2017 was not only internationally significant due to the notable size of the collection but also due to the architectural expansion of the museum space in order to house the exhibition. EMMA underwent a 1000 square metre enlargement in order to give space for design, art and folklore within its premises.

Head of Conservation Katja Oijusluoma agrees, “We are taking a step towards a new era in customer service and how we meet our visitors by bringing them into the work of the museum. It is very exciting in terms of conservation as well. How do we conserve the works while exhibiting them?”

Where conservation work traditionally builds on placing objects in boxes or wrapping works in plastic and protective covers, the idea behind Bryk & Wirkkala Visible Storage pushes for art to be conserved while at the same time being shown to visitors. This, according to Oijusluoma, means reaching huge compromises when it comes to the space. “We try and keep as many things as possible in sight but also have to maintain a certain rotation which allows for pieces to be restored.” These compromises include the regulation of the light in the space, as light is the single most corrosive agent when it comes to materials such as textiles and paper. “The visible storage has different amounts of light coming into the space so that we can protect materials that are most affected while leaving ceramics, glass and stone out on display and in the light,” Oijusluoma explains. “But mostly we try to leave things out where they belong, close to the people,” adds Oijusluoma.

And this is where the Bryk & Wirkkala Visible Storage exhibition space becomes significant. It is the single most radical renewal in the museum where the institution itself moves closer to the people. It allows for the artistic work to be brought out and aired right in front of the visitors, engaging the spectators with a grand peek behind the scenes of the art world.

“We think of the exhibition space as a halo-like structure. A halo, or an onion,” explains Chief Curator Paunu. The outer circle is comprised of a storage zone, after which the working wall that presents the more research-like elements follows, and finally, an inner circle made up of a white cube, which is actually a transparent structure. Something that describes the exhibition itself. It is transparent and very much present.

While the conservation work is kept in the centre of the exhibition so that people are able to see photographers and museum staff at work, what makes the Visible Storage a gem not to be missed is the content. Every metre of the space is filled with beautiful works by Bryk and Wirkkala.

All a visitor needs to do is find it! “I hope that people would come and see the exhibition in a childlike manner by looking into every drawer, box and window in order to really see the full works of this amazing couple,” Oijusluoma gently suggests. So make sure to look at things closely, open all the drawers and ask – the staff is there to help.

Paunu agrees, “This is a very special place which allows for people to have genuine meetings and discussions with art professionals. The dynamic interactions often involve personal memories of childhood and family life. Something that these beautiful works bring out in people.”

There is a certain warmth and energy to the Bryk & Wirkkala: Visible Storage exhibition. One that only waits to be discovered.

This post was done in collaboration between EMMA and Helsinki Design Weekly, but all thoughts and editorial content are Weekly’s own. Photos: Ari Karttunen / EMMA

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