Books, art, people…

The Rikhardinkatu Library, the former main library of the city of Helsinki, is currently one of the largest branch libraries. It is a beautiful building over one hundred years old, which provides both book and art lovers with adventure and food for thought. The area of concentration of the library’s collection is art books and periodicals. In addition to these, the selection of art publications includes a unique artist book collection and Finland’s biggest artotheque.

Seven small ‘galleries’
A diversity of exhibitions thrive in the seven small ‘galleries’ of the library. The library does not have a separate exhibition room, but there are exhibition areas in different places in the severalstorey building.We hope our patrons will be pleasantly surprised to find the unexpected and perhaps will receive some inspiration themselves! This arrangement has proven very functional and our guest books have been filled with many interesting comments. From these, it can be seen that the works have often affected people, awakened feelings, memories and thoughts, while the library atmosphere also allows more freedom to express opinions about art than that of a formal art gallery.

Upon entering the library from Rikhardinkatu, the visitor will encounter the first exhibition area. During last year’s renovations, new exhibition partitions were added in the first floor lobby of the library, where photography and paintings are mainly on display. There are also glass display cabinets in the children’s section on the same floor. There are three decorative glass display cabinets which can be placed in different areas of the upper floors of the old building. These cabinets have contained such items as jewelry, decorative Easter eggs, porcelain objects, artist books and many small installations and the last display in the cabinets before last year’s renovations was a collection of burned candles.

The light well in the middle of the several storey ‘book tower’ is called the ‘tower gallery’. This space is suited for different hanging sculptures or installation art. The installation artwork ‘Lukusali pinnan alla’ (‘reading hall beneath the surface’) on display a couple of years ago by two artists was a magnificent exhibit, in which an old iron bed was placed underneath giant lily pads which looked as if they were growing from the bottom of a lake. One library visitor wrote in the guest book “Thank you for this wonderful artwork! This really helped me, as I was here thinking what is ART really.”

Hyllygalleria Hyvinpieni
Our library may have the smallest gallery in Finland, Hyllygalleria Hyvinpieni. The idea of a small gallery came about in autumn 1993, when the shelving originally made for music cassettes and CDs became too small and a decision was made to take it down. This never happened, however. The shelves began being used to display different types of miniature exhibits. Those contributing to the Hyllygalleria Hyvinpieni displays have primarily been private persons, artists and collectors. However, the Bibliophile Society has also put ceramic book markers and bookcover paper from its members on display.

So far, the 80 different displays have featured many kinds of exhibits. Over the years, the shelf has been graced with jewelry made by artists, graphics, glass works, miniature sculptures, aquarelles and artist books. Latvian ceramics, miniature decorative pillows, tin soldiers, gingerbread sculptures, Japanese boxes and old postcards have also been on display. One of the most amusing displays may have been the ‘Taskujen arteet’ (‘Pocket treasures’) display, in which all of Hyllygalleria was filled with the ‘treasures’ one mother had found in the trouser pockets of her two young sons. Many artists have taken advantage of the shape of the gallery by making different installation artworks particularly suited to it. ‘Outoja kohtaamisia’ (‘Odd encounters’) was a display by the artist Olof Kangas, in which collections of small domestic objects were arranged on the shelves in surprising small scenes or encounters. Hyllygalleria Hyvinpieni has been popular and it is generally reserved a year in advance. Future displays include a collection of small velvet books, natural stones with painted icons and jewelry made from recycled material. Henna Paunu has written this about Hyllygalleria: “The size and nature of the exhibition space require that the displays be small. A miniature world can be built into the shelf with perfection as the goal. From the point of view of the spectator, the display is a peep into another reality, in which unusual, unique or everyday objects acquire a new meaning. Hyllygalleria has an intimate feel to it and it speaks to the spectator on a very personal level. The exhibitors also often reveal their personal thoughts, interests, memories and passions.”

RikArt—collection of artist books
RikArt is the name of our library’s artist book collection. Artist books are bookworks made by artists. In these works, visuality, the artist’s effort, is more essential than the text or the pictures. The artist book can be printed, but it is also a unique work of art. It does not have to be a book at all; it could be, for example, a box or a package. The artist book as a concept has been practically unknown in Finland for some time, and it is a great pleasure to make this interesting form of art known! Collection of the works began four years ago. At present, there are 150 works in the collection. It is probably the only public collection in Finland. For the acquisitions, we have received a small sum of money every year. The works are indexed in the library’s HelMet database. It is our intention to bring the collection to the Internet where the making of the Rik- Art net gallery has just been started. Pictures and information about the works, information about the artists and other related topics will be added to the net gallery. On the second floor of the library there is space in the so-called Taiteilijakirjakaappi (‘artist book cabinet’) especially for collection exhibits and artist book displays. So far over 20 different kinds of exhibits have been displayed there.

Kurkistuskortisto (card index artworks)
The most amusing display is perhaps the Kurkistuskortisto, which was made for the old card index box. The contents of each of the 36 card index boxes is its own little piece of artwork, the name of the work always being the index card of some real book. The materials used are small objects, cards, pictures, trash etc. gathered and found at home by the artists. This card index has time and time again surprised and amused both adults and children alike!

A greatly popular artotheque, or art rental system, was opened in the library in 1995 in co-operation with Helsingin Taiteilijaseura (Helsinki Artists’ Society). The artotheque operates on the basement floor of the library. The artworks in the artotheque can be rented out, and by paying a certain monthly payment, the piece can be purchased. The selection includes paintings, graphics, drawings and sculptures and more than 1,000 works by about 250 artists are included. Currently about 800 works are ‘on loan’. During these nine years, over 3,000 works have been sold. Both the customers and the artists have been very pleased. There is a small ‘hall gallery’ in the artotheque, where monthly changing displays present the works of the members of the art society.

The Rikhardinkatu Library aspires to fulfil the task of public libraries as defined in Finland’s library laws, according to which the library’s purpose includes the promotion of opportunities for the population to partake in literature and art.

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös OY

Librarian, Rikhardinkatu Library.
Chief librarian, Rikhardinkatu Library.