Review: Antti Oikarinen’s What is this?

An enticing photo of one of Antti Oikarinen‘s abstract sculptures recently drew me to see Exhibition, a collection of new works shown at Helsinki’s Galleria Heino. The work in question appeared to be an assemblage made of cast off materials, but the actual encounter proved surprising. The compositions not only shifted between or combined aspects of abstract and still life, many of them also possessed a highly impromptu quality.


Take Konstruktio, for example. This almost 2-dimensional work consists of several wood frames clamped together. It presents a compendium of modernist shapes: circle, rectangle and square, but the presence of the clamps initiates questions as to their purpose. Is it an impromptu arrangement – merely one of many the artist may have tried – or are we, as viewers, to experience how it feels waiting for glue to dry?


Veistos (2014) offers another case in point.  Resembling a piece of light grey putty spontaneously stretched across a corner, it’s prankish, the act of a teenager, a senseless spatial disruption like a piece of gum that appears on the sole of a shoe. It also recalls scientific experimentation and products found in stores selling toys or practical jokes. It leaves people guessing because it reminds them things such as the elastic properties of materials or their Ikea fridge magnet.


But read the list of works and everything changes. All of the art pieces are made of wood and paint. The artist has carved and then carefully painted each and every element. They mimic an oversize blob of pink paint flowing off a shelf and dripping onto the floor, a plastic sack filled with a white substance, and an electric cord that, disconnected from its appliance, now trails across the floor.

Look at them closely and there is a lifelessness about them. Signs of wear and tear on the tools don’t actually look real and Still Life‘s cactus and metal chair legs elicit a bland uniformity. The legs look more like plastic and the cactus has a cardboard cut-out look. One can’t be sure of the natural wood elements in a number of works are real or painted, but finer details, like the creases in Veistos (a plastic bag seemingly fully stuffed with some white material), don’t exhibit the crispness an actual object would.


Now the works generate more comments and questions: They’re an interesting twist on polychrome sculpture, but how should we think of them? Do we see them as 3-dimensional paintings, models or props used to stage what appears to be an exhibition? Tension between the medium and what it represents imbues these works. Do we see them as modes of Pop art or realism? Intriguing craft based creations or clever jokes?

They also call up a number of antecedents:

andy warhol Brillo Soap Pads 1964

They relate to Andy Warhol‘s Brillo soap boxes, works that many people initially believed could not be art. Mimicking a broadly available commercial product, he drew attention to the package’s unique visual characteristics. Presenting stacks of real Brillo boxes wouldn’t have had the same effect. Made of painted plywood and silkscreen ink, the objects both underscore the notion of mediocrity and celebrate the everyday. It’s for the viewer to decide if the boxes are an empty gesture or do they make a valid comment on American society’s preoccupations? They are, after all, very red, white and blue.

bill woodrow Pram With Fish 1982 pram enamel paint

In the 1980’s Bill Woodrow produced sculptures by cutting into assorted found objects. They consisted of household appliances, car parts, tin cans and other discarded items. The cut elements were then moulded into new forms, but left attached to their sources. This morphing set up strange relationships. Mass produced products spawned unique objects. It was an unusual form of recycling. Some saw it as a critique of capitalism; for others it was surreal. This beautifully weird interdependence can’t be defies explanation. Much like life on city streets, the work offers a host of strange coincidences.

vincent tomczyk Museum Bnch 2013 paper and mixed media

Vincent Tomczyk‘s work, on the other hand, doesn’t really appear to be made from paper, his chosen medium. Not having seen his work in person makes it difficult to comment on its exact character, but it appears strikingly real. His museum bench stands out in this respect. It appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a well worn functional object. Look again and one’s expectations are upended, for it rests on a white pedestal. Its expected function has been negated. Imagining the workings of the mind that has has chosen to construct it also prompts contemplation.

Like the work of his predecessors and contemporaries, Oikarinen’s output suggests multiple interpretations. What they are really about, though… Well that’s up to the viewer to decide.


Photo sources/credits (top to bottom/left to right):

Antti Oikarinen, Konstruktio 2014,

Antti Oikarinen: Veistos 2014,

Frankaboutart: Ikea magnet

Antti Oikarinen: (Still Life) 2014,

Antti Oikarinen: Veistos 2014,

Andy Warhol: Brillo Soap Pads Box 1964, 

Bill Woodrow: Pram with Fish 1982,

Vincent Tomczyk: Museum Bench 2013,



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