Plans to build a new “art palace” in Helsinki spurred a lively debate in the early 1900s. Various plans and sites were proposed, but no project made it beyond the drawing board. Helsinki’s art crowd finally took the matter in its own hands by initiating a plan to build a gallery in the downtown district of Töölö.
The gallery was commissioned in 1927 by the Kunsthalle Helsinki Foundation to serve as a custom-designed venue for contemporary art. Its mission statement specified that it was to present Finnish and foreign visual art, industrial design and architecture. The project would never have got off the ground without the support and financial backing of corporate sponsors and patrons. Significant donations were made by industrialist Gösta Serlachius, newspaper publisher Amos Anderson, businessman and artist Salomo Wuorio and industrialist Jalo Sihtola.
Kunsthalle Helsinki was designed by architects Jarl Eklund (1876–1962) and Hilding Ekelund (1893–1984) based on their winning entry in an invited competition held in 1927. The building was constructed in 1928. It was designed to serve specifically as a venue for exhibiting contemporary art. The interiors prioritize functionality, with separate rooms for sculptures and paintings. The gallery’s walls were originally dark but were later repainted in paler shades in line with prevailing tastes and conventions. The asymmetrical massing of the building was a typical feature of 1920s architecture. The round medallions on the main facade are repeated in the decorative detailing of the railings, doors, and floors of the entrance hall and sculpture gallery. Each room has high windows allowing ample sunlight to enter the gallery.
Kunsthalle Helsinki celebrated its first exhibition opening on March 3, 1928. Emulating the Paris Salon, the walls were packed floor-to-ceiling with art. The first show featured work by no fewer than 135 Finnish artists including Helene Schjerfbeck and Wäinö Aaltonen. The building is officially designated as a protected heritage site with special architectural and cultural significance.
Source: Kunsthalle Helsinki