The core of the Pro Artibus Foundation’s work is showing and supporting contemporary art, so it is our pleasure to begin 2020 with a display of historic contemporary art from the Prisma artists’ group.
Prisma was founded by a contingent of seven artists in 1956 and staged group exhibitions in the 1950s and early 1960s. Its members were Yngve Bäck (1904–1990), Gösta Diehl (1899–1964), Ragnar Ekelund (1892–1960), Torger Enckell (1901–1991), Unto Pusa (1913–1973), Sigrid Schauman (1877–1979) and Sam Vanni (1908–1992). They were all experienced, established figures. Their art was seen as being international and intellectual, which may be explained by the fact that Prisma members worked as art critics, teachers and theorists in various institutions. The output of the group’s artists was last shown in a commemorative exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki in 1986.
Prisma’s aim was to bring international modernism onto the Finnish art scene. Contemporaries spoke of a French colourism that looked like modernism but in a milder version than, for example, concretism. The group’s artists were highly experienced and, for example, Prisma’s only female member, Sigrid Schauman, had made her debut as early as 1901. Prisma’s exhibitions occasionally went on tour, which meant that contemporary art of the day could also be seen outside of Helsinki. The last proper exhibition by these artists was in 1970, when they had either reached a mature age or were already deceased,.
Prisma mainly staged group exhibitions in Finland, but also abroad, including in Sweden, France and West Germany. The group was set up in response to the lack of exhibition spaces in the 1950s, which meant there were virtually no suitable galleries. The selection of works being shown at Gallery Elverket reveals how this collaboration between artists already well into their careers could accommodate diverse modes of artistic expression. The Prisma artists cannot be squeezed into a single mould, rather, their colourful, polymorphous works speak on behalf of a free, diverse art. The group did not publish long manifestos, nor was it opposed to any particular ideology or movement, but defended everyone’s artistic freedom and diversity of expression.
The works in the exhibition are from the Amos Rex, Kerava Art Museum, Pro Artibus Foundation, Åbo Akademi University Foundation and private collections. They tell us about recent art history, but also bring out Prisma’s members’ multifaceted modes of expression and the varied aspects of the group’s rich artistic expertise.
Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD
Image: Yngve Bäck, En bukett, 1957.