by Tuula Arkio (2016)
Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (since 1998 Kiasma) 1990-2001
Maaretta Jaukkuri’s career in international contemporary art is exceptionally wide ranging. She has worked at Nordic institutions of international contemporary art and as an independent curator in the Nordic countries as well as internationally. She has written numerous articles on contemporary art, worked as a university teacher and held positions of trust both in Finland and at different international organisations. Her contact with international art was to a great degree formed during the years 1983-89 while working as the head of exhibitions at the Nordic Art Centre in Helsinki. While there, she organised several exhibitions of both Nordic and international art, both in the Nordic countries and elsewhere in the world. As an example, I could mention the large Nordic exhibition that toured extensively in South America.
After having worked as a substitute curator at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, she was appointed in 1990 as the chief curator responsible for exhibitions at the new museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki (from 1998 Kiasma) – a position she held from 1990-2007. The museum was fortunate to be able to include her on its staff as at that time there were not many people in Finland who had a good knowledge of international contemporary art. I worked with her until 2001. During this time Maaretta proved to be an extremely capable, calm and trustworthy colleague. She was passionate about her work and a competent professional. The new museum wanted to have a wider outlook on the changing scene of visual culture. It wanted to function as a prism, reflecting all aspects of contemporary art. The choices were selective but we wished it to resonate closely with the life and art of the time. As contemporary art cannot enclose itself within the walls of an institution, the programme had to be expanded into the surrounding society. Consequently, Kiasma has arranged several city projects as well as the Himalaya project.
Kiasma wanted to expand the understanding of art into the wider field of visual culture. We aimed at better understanding the time we are living in, and at formulating our viewpoints bravely, sensitively and in a timely fashion. We wished to interpret what was going on in the art of our time. All this was challenging for the new museum but at the same time extremely inspiring and rewarding. After moving to the new Kiasma building, the museum started to develop its activities more in the direction of an open cultural centre. The theatre, with its 200 seats, was as important an activity forum as the gallery spaces.
Maaretta’s contribution to the development of the museum was significant. During the first years of the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Ateneum building, the museum showed, besides contemporary Finnish art, works by international artists: Lothar Baumgarten, Jeff Wall, Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Superflex, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Ilya Kabakov and many others were exhibited in the programme. After completion of the Kiasma building, co-operation with other foreign museums could be increased and the number of international exhibitions could grow. We showed major exhibitions of Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham. Kiasma’s own programme included exhibitions by, for example, Marina Abramović, Cildo Meireles, Simryn Gill, Bjarne Melgaard, Carsten Höller and Brian Eno. An important exhibition for profiling the new museum was the ARS95 exhibition on the theme of private/public, held in the Ateneum building. This popular programme of large-scale international exhibitions had already been running in Finland since 1961. Over the decades, these exhibitions have provided the Finnish public with the possibility of seeing versatile, constantly changing and developing modern and contemporary art.
In 1992, Maaretta took a year’s leave from the museum and started working as the curator of the large and internationally recognised sculpture programme Artscape Nordland in North Norway. This project can be seen as a kind of starting point for the subsequent founding of the Maaretta Jaukkuri Foundation. Maaretta’s profound engagement with contemporary art, its challenges and interpretations has coloured her entire career and filled her life.
Her close relationships with artists and, in turn, the appreciation artists feel towards her has been a prominent feature throughout all her working years.