Diverse Design exhibition reveals a collector's passion for Finnish design

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Diverse Design exhibition reveals a collector's passion for Finnish design
Diverse Design installation view. Photo: Maija Holma / Alvar Aalto Foundation.

HELSINKI.- The Alvar Aalto Museum has been taken over by an exhibition of collector Pertti Männistö’s superb private Aalto collection, Diverse Design – 30 years of passionate collecting.

Männistö’s collecting began gradually, starting in 1992 when he acquired a prototype of an armchair designed by Alvar Aalto. Today, his collection comprises more than a thousand objects and includes not only pieces of furniture, lights and glass objects, but also details of interiors designed by the Aaltos. Various prototypes and other rarities stand out from the ranks of furniture serially produced from standardized components.

What makes the collection particularly interesting is its completeness. When systematically collected, the different variants on the same model of furniture shed light on the arc of development of a specific object, with each item completing the whole picture of the Aaltos’ design. “While building up the collection, I have tried to find different variations on the same models to see how they have developed and changed over time,” Pertti Männistö says.

The collection particularly represents the very first steps in Aino and Alvar Aalto’s industrial design. “When looking at the objects, I am astonished again and again by what versatile designers the Aaltos were, and by the dedication with which they threw themselves into design work aimed at creating a beautiful, high-quality everyday environment,” he says.

The exhibition is divided into sections constructed around different themes, such as the process of developing the “perfect wooden chair”, illustrated by six example chairs and a furniture group designed for Paimio Sanatorium and the National Pensions Institute. Also on display are rare variations on the model A 331, “Beehive” and model A 110, “Hand Grenade” lights, and glass objects designed by the Aaltos.

The interiors assembled using the furniture and lights mark the passage of time, with, for instance, a living room from the Great Depression of the 1930s and a 1960s Artek home. “The objects reflect the growing prosperity of Finnish society, which also brought new shades into the materials and upholstery fabrics used in Aalto furniture. The exhibition brings out Aalto’s virtuoso ability to adapt the shapes and structural innovations that he had devised – we can truly speak of Aalto as a master of variation,” says Alvar Aalto Museum Chief Curator Katariina Pakoma.

Collaboration between Museum and collector to preserve Aino and Alvar Aalto’s design heritage
Contacts between Pertti Männistö and the Alvar Aalto Museum began as early as the 1990s with an exchange of information, growing into today’s fruitful collaboration. Over the years, Männistö has loaned furniture and lights from his collection for several of the Museum’s theme exhibitions and also donated objects to the Museum’s collections.

“The collaboration between the Museum and the private collector at its best helps us keep a record of cultural history, since the collector can often even have very detailed information about the technical features of objects, while the Museum can contribute facts about the history of design. The Alvar Aalto Foundation’s archives and collections are public and I would like collectors, too, to take greater advantage of their contents in the future,” says Katariina Pakoma.

Objects from Pertti Männistö’s Aalto collection have been exhibited in Finland and abroad before, but this is the first time the collection is being shown on such a large scale to a broad public in Finland. “The exhibition is the highpoint of my career as a collector so far, when the objects in my collection get to be shown in the Museum designed by Alvar Aalto,” Männistö says. The exhibition says something, not just about the objects in this unique collection, but also about the collector’s passion, about his uncompromising thirst for knowledge, about the power of networking, and about the joy of discovery.

The exhibition resulting from this collaboration culminates in the shared goal of the private collector and public Museum – to record Alvar and Aino Aalto’s important design heritage and make it better known!

When the exhibition ends on March 21, 2021, the Alvar Aalto Museum will close for complete renovation of the Museum building. The restored Museum will be open to the public again in August 2023.

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