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Art writing for this day and age – art and audiences both need creative forms of discourse / about MUU writes group

Finland is a nation of art lovers, with visual art events and venues attracting some 4.5 million visitors annually. That is well beyond the figure even for theatre, traditionally regarded the most popular form of entertainment. Visual art can be enjoyed year round in all sorts of places, from established institutions to small galleries and pop-up exhibitions. New exciting venues are being set up all the time. Yet the number of discriminating texts about art is dwindling.

This deplorable lack has also been noted at Artists’ Association MUU, the second largest organisation representing professional artists in Finland. Now MUU writes group has set themselves the task of publishing an essay on every exhibition scheduled in MUU’s program autumn 2018, to be released both online and in the gallery.


This worrisome decline in topical art criticism was discussed by Jonni Aromaa in an article about curator-gallerist Veikko Halmetoja that appeared on the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s website on 18 June 2018. Critiques of visual art have all but vanished from mainstream media and are today to be found in odd corners of the Internet.

Now the artist members of MUU have decided to remedy the situation themselves. MUU Writes is a group composed of artists who share an interest in writing. It has been meeting for a couple of years already to discuss the role and potential of writing in contemporary art. The group organised a Tekstitreffit (‘Text meeting’) event as part of the Art Fair Suomi art festival last year. Now the group are limbering up their typing fingers to respond to a challenge they have set for themselves: to publish an essay on every one of MUU’s exhibitions in the course of autumn 2018. The texts will be released both online and in the galleries. The project seeks to offer a creative alternative to art criticism, with artists writing about the work of a colleague.

Professional art writers seem to be a dying breed. The passing of Otso Kantokorpi left a gaping hole in the field of art writing in Finland, one that will not be easy to fill. The situation gives cause for concern, as insightful art writing can at best satisfy all kinds of needs. For the public at large, it can suggest interesting and topical exhibitions. It can help the audience find novel or emergent artforms and encourage people to see differently. Good art writing keeps the reader aware of topical phenomena and trends, and will serve as a source of information for professionals as well.

Art writing is both interpretative and reflexive. It gives verbal expression to the subject addressed by the artist. It gives its reader new perspectives, ways to interpret issues, and words with which to conceptualise visual art. Writing can contextualise art and give rise to new associations. It allows readers to develop the process of observation on their own. Constructive criticism also challenges the artist’s choices and provides the audience with the means to doubt, disagree and understand different interpretations.

Art writing also serves artists in that it brings the audience to their work. A text can draw attention to art that otherwise refuses to obey marketplace rules. And of course a text can give the artist valuable and much-needed feedback on the works. The task of constructive art criticism is not to place artists in some order of merit or preference or to grade artworks, but it does help artists make ever better works for the public to enjoy.

The MUU Writes group will make its contribution this autumn to remedy the lack of art writing. We hope that the project will also inspire others to take up the pen, to give us more and increasingly diverse writing about art in the future.

The MUU Writes group comprises artists John Gayer, Liisa Hilasvuori, Rita Leppiniemi, Suvi Nurmi and Juhani Räisänen with MUU director Timo Soppela.

Articles published by the group:
· 18.9.2018 SUVI NURMI: Linnunpönttö kutsuu pysähtymään
· 15.9.2018 JOHN GAYER: Rooms of Color – an alternate kind of  Prism
· 13.9.2018 RITA LEPPINIEMI: Saga and Fairytale – an extremely random media installation / Markus Renvall
· 15.8.2018 SUVI NURMI: Aliasing näyttää sosiaalisen median mekanismit riisuttuina (in Finnish)
· 10.8.2018 JUHANI RÄISÄNEN: Näkymiä Timo Kokon näyttelyyn Momentary Apperarance: Katharsis (in Finnish)

Enquiries: Timo Soppela, director(a)muu.fi