Birger Kaipiainen at EMMA: first retrospective of this unique artist in over 20 years | EMMA - Espoo Museum of Modern Art

EMMA - Espoo Museum of Modern Art

EMMA - Espoo Museum of Modern Art is one of the biggest museums in Finland.

Birger Kaipiainen at EMMA: first retrospective of this unique artist in over 20 years


The exhibition Aesthete Extraordinaire / Birger Kaipiainen’s ceramic fantasies opens at EMMA on 19th June. – Exhibition curator docent Harri Kalha believes: ”Kaipiainen’s Paratiisi (Paradise) collection and The Night of the Skylarks wallpaper were paramount to the international triumph of Finnish modern design.”


EMMA’s major exhibition of Kaipiainen’s unique works is the first in over 20 years. It will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue written by Harri Kalha, the first in-depth study of Kaipiainen’s art, published jointly by EMMA and the Finnish Literature Society.

As an artist, Birger Kaipiainen mixed categories and posed questions that even now remain unanswered. Although his unique, mysterious fantasies delighted contemporaries, they also estranged the advocates of modern design. Art circles wondered at his unrestrained decorativeness. Today, however, ceramists draw deeply on ornamentation, designers on colour and artists on organic ‘kaipiainen-like’ motifs.   


”Now in the Twenty Tens, Birger Kaipiainen is more topical than ever before. In Harri Kalha’s exhibition these unique works are presented to the modern viewer in a totally new light and in a way that does justice to the artist. His world is our world, a part of today,” says Museum Director Pilvi Kalhama.


A special subject requires a special presentation. Designer Ilkka Suppanen brings a fresh look to exhibition architecture in presenting EMMA’s design. The enthusiasm shown by the partners in collaborating with the exhibition team tells of the versatility and enduring charm of Kaipiainen’s work. The wallpaper manufacturers Pihlgren & Ritola are producing for the first time Kaipiainen’s The Night of the Skylarks in one of the original colours. They, plus Arabia, Avotakka and Woodnotes, have otherwise contributed generously to realising Kalha & Suppanen’s vision.


Birger Kaipiainen was born in Pori in 1915 but soon the family moved to Helsinki. At 17 years he began studying at the Central School for Applied Arts alongside other now internationally-renowned designers. After college he began his career with the art department of the Arabia Factory where he spent the next fifty years, enjoying a freedom to fulfil his creative visions untrammelled by the demands of industrial production. The Arabia decades were only interrupted by four years in the Fifties spent with Rörstrand in Sweden. Kaipiainen was not only appreciated in Finland but also internationally. Abroad he received the Grand Prix in Milan in 1951 and in Montreal in 1967, and at home the Pro Finlandia medal in 1963 and the honorary title of professor in 1977. 


Apart from the polymorphic forms gleaned from nature, Kaipiainen was also influenced by historical styles and classical era ceramics. He loved music, opera, ballet and parties. To him the most important thing in life was to avoid dullness. In an interview on his 60th birthday he observed: “Imagination costs nothing. It has no limits and no-one can say where it ends.”




Aesthete Extraordinaire / Birger Kaipiainen’s ceramic fantasies at EMMA, 19.6.2013–12.1.2014. Curated by Harri Kalha and designed by Ilkka Suppanen, the exhibition contains unique pieces from the collections of Kyösti Kakkonen, the Design Museum, the Ateneum, Helsinki Art Museum and private individuals. It will be accompanied by a major study of Birger Kaipiainen’s art jointly produced by EMMA and the Finnish Literature Society. The exhibition highlights EMMA’s profile as a museum presenting modern and contemporary art as well as design.


EMMA’s diverse programme of events in connection with the exhibition includes a collectors’ afternoon during Helsinki Design Week with a visit to the Arabia Factory where designers talk about their working environment. Documentary filmmaker Tina Cavén is making a new portrait of Birger Kaipiainen which will have its premiere at Espoo Ciné’s open-air showing on WeeGee’s Night of the Arts, 22nd August.  




Pilvi Kalhama, Museum Director, EMMA, Tel. 09 8168 4603.

Interviews, contacts and media information: Head of Marketing and Communications Tatu Malmström, Tel. 043 825 0021.