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Johanna Vakkari

Born March 19, 1961, Sippola

Master of Arts (art history) 1989, University of Jyväskylä
Licentiate 1998 and PhD (art history) 2007, University of Helsinki
Docent in Italian Renaissance art and the history of art history 2008, University of Turku
Docent in art history 2009, University of Helsinki

Head of Programme, Arts & Culture 2014–16, the Finnish Institute in London
Director (acting) October 1, 2014–January 14, 2015, the Finnish Institute in London
Senior Coordinator 2011–, Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts
Post-doc researcher 2008–11, A Portrait of Art History, Critical Approaches to Finnish Art History and Historians – a University of Helsinki project funded by the Academy of Finland
Member of the research network: 2007–11, Vision of the Past: Images as Historical Sources and the History of Art History – a NordForsk funded Nordic researcher network project.
University lecturer (acting) in art history 2008–10, University of Helsinki
Art history amanuensis (acting) and coordinator of the national doctoral school, 2007–2008, University of Helsinki
University lecturer (acting) in art history 2005
Instructor in art history, 2004–2005, University of Helsinki
Assistant in art history 1998–2004, University of Helsinki
Art history amanuensis (acting), 1997, University of Helsinki
Research assistant in art history 1995–97, University of Helsinki
Part-time teacher of art history 1995–98, University of Helsinki
Part-time teacher of art history 1994–98, Open University, University of Helsinki

Board member of the Academy of Fine Arts 2013, University of the Arts
Board member of the Nordic Committee for Art History 2009–
Chairman of the Society for Art History in Finland and editor in chief of the journal Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia (‘Studies in Art History’) and the online publication TAHITI 2011–13
Working member of the Finnish Antiquarian Society 2009–
Board member of the Institute of Art Research 2001–03, University of Helsinki

Research areas: contemporary art, contemporary jewellery, the history of art history, methods and theories, art connoisseurship, old Italian art

The Kaarlo Koskimies and Irma Koskimies Scholarship Fund prize for best doctoral dissertation 2008, University of Helsinki
Teaching Technology Competition official recognition of excellence 2002, University of Helsinki

Photo: Anna Orhanen
Written by Johanna Vakkari (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

From the Renaissance to contemporary art

Chronologically considered, my career progress has been strictly linear. First I became a researcher of old art, then I concentrated on the historiography, research methods and theoretical foundations of art history, and I finally ended up working with contemporary art.

The history of Western art has been a central part of my teaching as well as my research, much of which deals with Italian art from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Art, its history, and its new expressions are a vast and inexhaustible field. Even though research would be simpler if I concentrated on a single clearly delimited theme, I am happy to have worked with Giotto, the Tintorettos, and the Tiepolos, as well as with many contemporary artists, to have participated in research and exhibition projects, and to have been able to support contemporary Finnish artists entering the international art scene.

I began teaching art history at the Open University and the University of Helsinki as a newly minted Master of Arts, and teaching is still a vital part of my identity. A central mission of the university is to produce new professionals who in the best case will advance further than the previous generations. Here, it is crucial that both domestic and international contacts are opened to students at an early enough stage.

My own leap into international research occurred in Italy, where I was first working on my Master's thesis for the University of Jyväskylä on 16th century Venetian female portraits and later on my Licentiate thesis for the University of Helsinki on the Venetian Renaissance painters Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto. This involved delving into archives and libraries in Italy and the museum collections of several countries as well as intensive international correspondence. In many ways Italy became my second homeland and Italian my closest second language.

J. J. Tikkanen, detail of Pietà mural by Giotto, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua. Original from 1302-3, sketch by Tikkanen from 1882.

My teaching position at the University of Helsinki involved staying in Finland more than before, while research of Venetian art would have required me to spend long periods working abroad. Partly for that reason, partly because I had already felt the lure of the history of science and learning, I began to study the history of European art history, art research, and art collecting. This became my main focus for quite a long time. Before my dissertation I wrote a textbook on the history and principles of art connoisseurship titled Lähde ja silmä ('The Source and the Eye'), and after that I concentrated on Johan Jakob Tikkanen (1857 – 1930), Finland's first professor of art history – although with one foot still in Italian art, working on exhibition projects.

J. J. Tikkanen, his works, and his extensive archives, until recently kept in the library of art history, opened a window into the academic history of an entire era. Professor Tikkanen pioneered several fields of art history and was acquainted with all the leading names in the discipline. Working with his collections has also been an aesthetic pleasure, since he was an exquisite draughtsman, and both his archives of tens of thousands of pages and his card file of about 60,000 cards are full of drawings. I literally got to see his research process with my own eyes.

Although I had been writing on contemporary art all along, I received a further push from Professor Tikkanen, who, as long time secretary and chairman of the Finnish Art Society and numerous other positions, was a key figure in the art scene of his day. Perception and bringing perceptions into art, highlighting new perspectives, new techniques and the special characteristics of each period, especially our time, began to interest me ever more. In a way, the 2015 book Perspektiivi kuvataiteen historiassa ('Perspective in the History of Art'), which I edited and partly wrote, ties into this too.

In the Academy of Fine Arts, contemporary art became a more integral part of my life. While for practically the whole of my career I had strived to help art history students progress in their studies, now instead, or in addition, I became interested in supporting the artists of today and promoting contemporary art. My job as Head of Programme, Arts & Culture at the Finnish Institute in London has provided excellent opportunities for this.

Johanna Vakkari as visiting instructor Venice 2006. Photo: Petri Kaverma.


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