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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

My best moments at the University of Helsinki

I worked in the Main Building of the University of Helsinki for two decades, and there were times when I practically lived there. I learned to walk down corridors at night without needing to turn on lights. I remember Julys when the University was closed and you rarely met another soul in the old wing of the Main Building.

The silence, the lighting shifting according to the hour, the shadows cast by sculptures on the walls, the smell of floor wax, the vibrations from a passing tram, the thoughts of who had walked up and down those same stairs and corridors down the years still linger in my mind. The art history library and picture archive were within arm’s reach and the University library just a few steps away in the next building. Because of the architecture, the sense of space, and the sculpture collection, the old wing of the Main Building was an aesthetic environment that reminded me every day of the significance of art history.

The University of Helsinki is home to many good memories of students, colleagues, and friends. I was proud to be appointed Honorary Member of Eidos ry, the art history student association, in 2001, on their 40th anniversary. What especially gratified me was that this was in recognition of the work I had done to promote cooperation between students and the department. I was also both amused and bemused because the only Honorary Members before me were professors of art history Lars Pettersson and Henrik Lilius, and the author Pekka Suhonen, founding member and first chairman of Eidos. It may be the surprising difference in age between me and the aforementioned that led a male colleague to introduce himself to me later that night with the words: “I guess we last met back in the Swinging Sixties”. Being born in 1961, I was doubtful of the veracity of the statement.

Johanna Vakkari and Markus Hiekkanen leading an art history excursion in Assisi in 2009. Photo: Jukka Cadogan.

I have been at my happiest when my teaching has gone well, my students have made good progress, and they have given me positive feedback. Development of teaching and teaching methods requires perseverance, and I have always approached it with dedication, because I see teaching as the core mission of the university. To have your students stay in contact even after becoming your colleagues is gratifying. At best it shows that the knowledge and skills gained during their studies have helped them carve out their own niche. It also suggests trust and mutual respect between teacher and student.

Other highlights were several excursions to Italy, most often to Rome, that required a great deal of preparation from both teachers and students. The trips were stimulating and memorable also for the collegial work involved, since I ran each excursion to the Villa Lante together with another teacher. At the university you seldom get to engage in such close teamwork, since you are mainly responsible for your own teaching.

Introducing students to artwork in the flesh, as it were, is vital to art history. It's easy to think that only architecture, being such a spatial art, is something you can't sufficiently understand from pictures, but it's the same for all fine art. In Rome, London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, New York, and many other major cities seeing art on the spot is an integral part of teaching, and if there is anything I envy my foreign colleagues for, it is this. The collections in Helsinki and in the whole of Finland are rather limited; hence study trips abroad are a necessity, for which sadly there is seldom sufficient means. The first time I saw the paintings of Ingres in the Louvre, his subtle use of light really struck me in a way I hadn't seen in pictures. In the same vein, I only truly understood how exquisite the marbles of Canova were when I stood before them.

The art history student association Eidos ry has already been organising study trips abroad for years, since the department has such limited resources. This dedication from our young students deserves all our respect.

Johanna Vakkari and Markus Hiekkanen leading an art historical excursion in Rome in 2009. Photo: Jukka Cadogan.


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