A striking composition by Ahti Lavonen is back on display at the Kirpilä Art Collection. Abstract White Composition (1962), acquired by Juhani Kirpilä around the beginning of the 1980s, had some conservation work done on it between November 2022 and mid-April 2023. According to conservators Tuulikki Kilpinen and Maija Santala, the process was challenging but rewarding. The work consists of diverse materials layered onto linen fabric in an unusual technique, and over its sixty years of existence it had become very dry and was shedding. Kilpinen and Santala felt that the work was in something of a state of emergency and had to be saved quickly, before it was too late.

Ahti Lavonen’s desire to experiment was visible in everything and posed challenges for the conservators. Many surprises came up during the process, such as the yellow background material used by the artist, as well as a dark-brown substance discernible within the sand, which has still not been conclusively identified. Additionally, it was nearly impossible to examine the work using side lighting, because the uneven surface composed from diverse materials created shadows everywhere.

Moving the artwork was difficult due to its weight and dimensions. Mostly it lay on its side on a workbench during conservation. For this, the work had to be supported particularly well, because the materials on the linen – such as sand – are heavy. The sand is now well affixed with the fish glue traditionally used in conservation. The availability problems currently affecting materials in many sectors are also making things difficult for conservators. Fortunately our experienced professionals have plenty of experts and colleagues in their networks, to whom they could turn in relation to various issues.

Kilpinen and Santala summarise the intricate five-month project as having been a difficult but meaningful piece of conservation work. “Lavonen has become a landmark effort for each of us,” they both agree.

Photo: Maija Santala and Tuulikki Kilpinen with artwork by Ahti Lavonen / Kirpilä Art Collection

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