Sara Hildén and The Classic

“Don’t call me an art patron. Say I’m a friend of art”

Sara Hildén (1905–1993) was a Tampere businesswoman who owned fashion shops in Tampere and Lahti. Her successful business activities allowed her to devote herself to collecting art. The result was one of the most comprehensive and significant collections of modern art in Finland. The exhibition Sara Hildén and the Classics presents works selected by Sara Hildén for her collection and paints a picture of her as a friend of art.

Sara Hildén’s interest in the visual arts stemmed from the time she became acquainted with the ceramist Rut Bryk (1916–1999) in Yyteri in the summer of 1944. Thus it was through arts and crafts that Sara Hildén became interested in modern and contemporary art, an enthusiasm that was intensified by her marriage to the painter Erik Enroth (1917–1975). The years working in the fashion business enhanced her ability to appreciate the value and relativity of contemporary phenomena. During the 1940s, Sara Hildén became an influential figure in the cultural life of Tampere, and her home became a place where writers, artists and theatricals met.

Sara Hildén began to collect modern international art in 1961. In that year, ARS 61 HELSINKI, held by the Ateneum Art Museum, presented a new foreign movement in abstract art, informalism, to Finnish art devotees, and the ideas about art that Sara Hildén adopted from the exhibition directed her acquisitions in the early 1960s.

Sara Hildén made her first visit to the Venice Biennale in 1962. This spelled the beginning of a phase in her life marked by journeys to visit major presentations of modern art and negotiations with gallerists to get important works of art exhibited in Finland. She travelled actively in the years 1962–72, not only visiting galleries and museums and meeting artists but also attending the shows of leading fashion houses.

In 1962 Sara Hildén donated her collection to a foundation, which was named after her. The number of works in the collection of the Sara Hildén Foundation grew rapidly in the 1960s. In the following decade, negotiations began about obtaining a dedicated museum building to house the collection, and in 1975 the City of Tampere and the Sara Hildén Foundation signed an agreement that led to the building of the Sara Hildén Art Museum. The museum was opened to the public on 11 February 1979.

The works selected for the Sara Hildén Museum’s autumn exhibition reflect the early phase of the collection, which today comprises over 5000 works, focusing on international trends in art in the 1960s and ’70s. At the same time, they also demonstrate how Sara Hildén, through her choice of works, influenced the way the history of art appears in the light of the works in the collection.

The exhibition includes works by leading masters of the informalist movement, which dominated European pictorial art in the 1960s, such as Zao Wou-Ki and Rafael Canogar. Informalism together with concretism and constructivism was joined by neo-realism and pop art in the late 1960s and 1970s. The developmental stage of the collection is represented by several works, such as those of Francis Bacon, Claudio Bravo, Chuck Close, Howard Kanovitz and Edward Kienholz, that bring reality to the exhibition space in a concrete form.

Although Sara Hildén’s primary objective was to assemble a collection of contemporary art, she was from the very outset interested in the classic works of modern art. Thus some of the earlier masters of modern art, like the sculptors Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore and the painters Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Giorgio Morandi, Georges Rouault and Yves Tanguy, are represented in the exhibition, while works by Pierre Bonnard, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso also offer viewers an opportunity to acquaint themselves with developments in art in the early nineteenth century.