It’s not the winding path up past wooden houses or the rising smoke above the fragrant conifers that give you the feeling of stepping into an early Christmas movie during a visit to Tampere, Finland. It’s the slowly swelling pilgrimage of fans on their way to the Sara Hildén Art Museum in search of two superstars.
The works of art in the exhibition WE by Brad Pitt and Nick Cave has attracted a steady stream of visitors since opening in September, which continues to surprise the understated residents of Finland’s second city. The exhibition is a collaboration with artist Thomas Houseago and is seen as the official debut of Pitt and Cave on the art scene. The immensely beloved rock star Cave is known as a creative jack-of-all-trades and trained as a visual artist. Pitt’s aspirations to enter the museum world came much more unexpectedly.
But how do you look openly at the work of a world-famous movie star? He already has “an enviable life,” said an art critic The Guardian fixed. “It would only be fair to the rest of us if he went down like other celebrities who mess with fine art.” Gradually, the skeptical view of the fruits of Pitt’s career change seemed to disappear, and the reception became increasingly positive.
The exhibition WE begins even before the public shuffles into the museum in Tampere. A massive dark wood statue of Houseago, with deeply hollowed-out eyes, towers over the visitors next to the entrance. The Los Angeles-based British artist is known for his impressive sculptures in which he enlarges body parts. He finally landed as an established name in the art world after one of his sculptures was prominently displayed at the Venice Biennale in 2011.
On the ground floor of the museum, different series by Houseago are spread over the halls. Accompanying lyrics tell of how he explores the relationship between sculpture and architecture, how Japanese poetry inspired his paintings, and how art helps him through depression and anxiety. Although Houseago has the largest share in the exhibition, an overarching theme is missing.
Pitt in particular has shot with hail within the exhibition and shows widely divergent works. The candlesticks he created as a gift for his friend Houseago seem to have been copied directly from the commercial VT living magazine. Nevertheless, he manages to leave a penetrating personal mark on the exhibition with his life-size masculine sculptures, although he relies heavily on Houseago’s visual language.
The fact that Pitt used his own body for the images and rolled through the plaster in various positions caused a small outlier in the buzz of the otherwise timid museum public. Despite the matte plaster, the wall plate sparkles Aiming At You I Saw Me But It Was Too Late This Time because of its originality, and the work remains as a powerful and layered indictment of gun violence in the United States. During the press opening of the exhibition, Pitt said his artworks came about after reflections on his flaws in relationships. Whether he wants to come to terms with the allegations of physical and verbal abuse by his ex-wife Angelina Jolie remains open.
In the basement of the Sara Hildén Art Museum, a poetic text by Nick Cave about the devil hangs next to Pitt’s sculptures. Cave delved into his fascination with the mythological figure by expressing his life in a series of porcelain figurines. The Devil-A Life is Cave’s only contribution to the exhibition. The seventeen glossy works in which the devil has to relate to the world from his birth to his death, stand out for their refined elaboration among all the large and abstract sculptures.
Both Houseago, Pitt and Cave show strongly masculine images. It is amazing that, despite the immense reputation of the artists, a number of works seem to be detached from the names behind them. But without the umbrella of a consistent theme, a distance also remains.
WE feels like three eccentric uncles have dropped some random impressive Christmas presents for the nieces and nephews they want to be involved with but don’t really know very well anymore. After you have completely unpacked the exhibition, you are happy with what is given, but you still do not understand exactly what they mean by it afterwards.