© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
“I feel like Hephaestus or Vulcan, being able to create something directly in metal, just like this ancient god, with my bare hands, electricity and fire as my only tools.”
At the end of the 1950s, Eila Hiltunen (1922–2003) was the first Finnish artist to begin welding her sculptures out of metal. It gave rise to a fierce debate over what was a “real” sculpture. One of the artist’s welded works was due to be entered into the Venice biennale of 1960, but the board of the Finnish Academy of Art did not accept it as part of the Finnish exhibition. Sakari Saarikivi, the commissioner responsible for the Finnish section resigned in protest at the decision.
The old guard in the Academy of Art held that sculpted stone and cast bronze were the only media that enabled the creation of supple, sculpted works. Anything else was seen as spiritless tinkering. However, new art was not going to be rejected so easily. The highly esteemed Bank of Finland commissioned a fountain sculpture from Eila Hiltunen, which was installed in front of the Bank’s new wing in 1961. It was the capital city’s first abstract public monument. The work was constructivist and its tight geometry differed from the artist’s earlier more figurative works in bent slats of metal. There is a superb miniature version of the monument in the Bank’s lobby.
Eila Hiltunen’s art and personality became the centre of heated discussion particularly in terms of her highly controversial monument to Sibelius, because of its “organ-pipe” design. A modern Finnish pioneer in sculpture, and a woman at that, needs to have a strong character and later in her career Eila Hiltunen stated: “A low profile and sweetness of character are nothing, when it’s a matter of such a serious issue as art.”