kontroversy and kudos
The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma that opened in the centre of Helsinki in May 1998 made feelings in some Finns run high well before the foundation stone had even been laid. Seldom has any building project in Finland prompted such a vehement public debate.
Plans for the museum had been hatched for over thirty years before the decision to build it finally emerged. The Museum of Contemporary Art was established only in 1990 and had to make do with limited space as a sub-tenant of the Finnish National Gallery in the Ateneum building. When a competition was arranged to choose a design, the choice went to Kiasma by Steven Holl, the only American who had been invited to enter.
A huge controversy erupted over the choice of site. It was right in the heart of the city, nearly opposite the Parliament and beside the Main Post Office and the impressive equestrian statue of national hero C.G. Mannerheim. A lot of emotions immediately went seriously onto the boil: no way was Mannerheim's statue to be insulted by sticking a modern monstrosity behind it! A petition was started and there were even proposals that the statue be moved to somewhere else.
Construction began near the statue anyway and the temperature of the debate rose again once the building began taking shape. Whereas the design jury had used words like "mysterious" and "sculptural" to describe it, ordinary citizens saw resemblances to things like a whale, a pumpkin and even a submarine.
Great was the surprise when the museum was completed and turned out to be a downright splendid background for Mannerheim and his horse. Besides that, people can now view the statue from a completely new perspective, and in the warmth of Kiasma's interior!
Kiasma comes from the Greek word khiasma (chiasma in English) meaning intersection, such as between optical nerves. Aptly, therefore, the Museum of Contemporary Art advertises itself as "a crossing point, a place for makers and those who see and experience". The massive publicity that had surrounded the place drew more than 200,000 visitors - not all of whom can have been ardent admirers of modern art - there in its first year. Kiasma is easy to get to thanks to its central location and is open from early morning to late in the evening. Admission to the lower floor with its electronic info points is free of charge.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Mannerheiminaukio 2, Helsinki. Open Tue 9-17, Wed- Sun 10-22, Mon closed.