CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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PALIN, Tutta
Non-Avantgardist Conceptions of Experimentation

Session 2 The Rank of Art

University of Turku


Within the canon of Western Art History, the concept of experimentation in visual art is intimately linked with the notion of avant-garde, most especially concerning nonfigurative art, and understood as formal experimentation only. The aim of this paper is to outline alternative, context related ways of defining experimentation through analyzing ways in which elements of experimentation can also be seen to characterise figurative Modernism(s). Forms and practices of mainstreaming and popularising figurative art can in themselves be seen as experimentative gestures.


First, a case from the mid-1950s is presented: a cycle of rural landscapes by the Finnish painter Helge Dahlman (1924–1979) which in their figurative rigour question clear-cut distinctions between abstraction and figuration. The artist also articulates his own notion of artistic experimentation. Second, developments in the the popular print media of the early 20th century are discussed as a historical background and facilitator for these artistic phenomena. The focus lies on the period between 1920 and 1960, with the newly gained independence of Finland (1917) coinciding with a more global phenomenon: the rapid expansion of the illustrated press. The painterly tradition which the Finnish artworld related to was predominantly French, however mounted in another value system.

PALIN, Tutta 

Tutta Palin received her MA and PhD degrees (1990, 2004) in Art History from the University of Turku, Finland, where she is employed as a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) and also holds the title of Docent (Adjunct Professorship) and acts as supervisor to PhD students. She has taught for the past 25 or so years both at art history and gender studies departments at the Universities of Turku and Helsinki, Finland, spent the ‘Winter Semester’ 2011–2012 as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and enjoyed a 6-month Visiting Fellowship at the Kingston University in London.


Dr Palin has published two monographs on late 19th and early 20th century portraiture in Finland and Scandinavia, a monograph on the Finnish artist Ester Helenius (1875–1955), and numerous articles on painting, photography, and visual theory. In 2007–2009 she was (co-)editor of NORA  Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research published by Routledge. Her current interests involve critical Modernist Studies (Alternative Modernisms).